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Retired officers with pensions returning to work across Tampa Bay

Dan Simovich was hired at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in 1979, worked his way to the agency's No. 2 spot, retired in 2012, and began working for a private security company the following year.

But in February, he became chief deputy again after collecting deferred compensation of $540,968. He also receives a $9,132 monthly pension and a $155,000 annual salary. He made $140,000 before retirement.

Simovich, who declined comment, is among several retired officers who have returned to full-time work since 2013 at local agencies, including the Tampa Police Department and the Hills-borough County Sheriff's Office, according to records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

Since January 2013, the Pinellas Sheriff's Office has hired 10 former employees, most returning as deputies. Two have been assigned to the higher ranks. At the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, four retired sworn personnel have returned and the Tampa Police Department has rehired three retired officers.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said a wave of recent retirements has left his department grappling with a "void of experience:" 71 percent of patrol deputies were hired in the past three years, while the four captains overseeing the jail and the department's four majors have less than a year in their current positions.

"There's nothing more to it than that," Gualtieri said. "This is not in any way, shape or form a buddy system, a good old boy system."

At the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, one retiree left as a sergeant and returned as a captain. Joel K. Rios, 48, retired as a sergeant in 2013 and collected $75,478 in deferred compensation. He became a captain last year while collecting a $6,312 monthly pension and a $101,504 salary.

Sheriff David Gee appointed Rios, who declined comment, as a captain overseeing the specialty teams, such as the canine and aviation units, because he worked undercover for an undisclosed federal agency after his retirement, said agency spokesman Larry McKinnon. Records show Rios lived in Virginia before returning to Florida.

The department has dozens of positions open, as seasoned personnel continue to retire.

"It's a lot easier when you have these unfilled positions and you're out recruiting people and you have a work force that has retired," McKinnon said. "You already know their work history, their work ethics."

Nationwide, other departments have hired former employees as they deal with a spate of retirements, said Michael Ferrence Jr., executive director of the Major County Sheriffs' Association, which represents the country's largest departments.

"A number of agencies are caught in this experience dilemma and are trying to find new strategies," Ferrence said. "The business has changed very rapidly and so now you're finding less and less in terms of skill sets that are readily available."

Officers typically stayed at one agency for their entire careers, Ferrence said. Now, many change departments several times, or leave the industry altogether.

Besides a monthly pension, many retired officers received benefits through the Deferred Retirement Option Program, which requires they leave their jobs by a certain date, typically within five years. After retiring, they receive a lump sum from their pension.

The purpose is to give higher-paid employees an incentive to retire to make way for lower-paid workers, said former state Sen. Mike Fasano, who pushed for a 2010 law that requires retired state employees to wait six months before returning to public work.

"It's your higher-paid individuals within these agencies that are truly taking advantage of the system," said Fasano, now Pasco's tax collector. "When you hear this argument that they cannot find anyone, they're not trying very hard."

Other officials, such as Pinellas Sheriff's Office Capt. Dennis Fowler, were enrolled in the Florida Retirement System's investment plan.

Fowler, 58, retired in 2008 as chief deputy, collected money from his plan (which is exempt from public record), and became an officer in Lincoln, Neb. In 2013, Gualtieri asked Fowler, who declined comment, to return as a captain overseeing strategic planning, grants administration and staff inspections. His current salary is $104,978.

"I had nobody, nobody that had the experience, the knowledge, the skill set, the institutional knowledge, that Dennis had," the sheriff said. "He's done stellar, which is what we'd expect."

After Simovich, 59, left the Sheriff's Office, he was hired by G4S Secure Solutions, a global security firm, to "lead the company's sales and development efforts for law enforcement support services," G4S said in 2013. Since 2006, G4S has contracted services with the Sheriff's Office, including at the jail, the juvenile assessment center, and Safe Harbor homeless shelter.

While Simovich worked there, G4S expanded its contract to include jail transport. Gualtieri said Simovich was not involved in negotiations. The sheriff approached him about returning when George Steffen, then chief deputy, was about to retire.

"It was a natural fit to ask Dan to come in because of his breadth of experience," Gualtieri said.

Three retired Tampa Police Department officers have also been rehired at that agency. Kenneth Morman, 58, who left as a major, collected a $548,150 DROP compensation. He is now a training specialist making $55,473 a year, as well as a $6,804 monthly pension. He could not be reached for comment.

"Their knowledge, experience and expertise of the institution and law enforcement in general is critical when it comes to training officers," police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said in a statement.

The St. Petersburg Police Department, which has its own pension system, last year rehired Michael Celona, who left as a detective and returned a month later as an intelligence analyst making $47,049 a year, records state.

Sometimes the retired officers find work elsewhere in the government structure. Salvatore Ruggiero, another former major in Tampa, now works for the city as a neighborhood enhancement manager overseeing code enforcement and the Clean City program.

Ruggiero, 56, was hired as a Tampa police officer in 1982. Through the years, he worked in patrol, narcotics, and the auto theft task force. He was also a field training officer and part of former Chief Jane Castor's command staff in 2009. Two years later, Ruggiero retired with a $391,847 compensation and a $5,550 monthly pension. He applied to become police chief in several cities.

"My ultimate goal was to be a police chief when I retired," he said. "That didn't work out."

In 2013, the city approached him about returning and he accepted. He makes $105,393 a year.

"I wanted to be productive and have a purpose," he said. "I'm working hard every day. This is not a milk retirement job where somebody's taking care of me. That's not happening here."

Times staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

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