Florida Fund Seeks Audit After Newspaper Reports On Officials Skirting DROP Payout Rules

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Over the past few weeks, the Florida Times-Union has run a series of articles detailing how high-ranking public safety workers, and top pension officials, were able to rack up benefits by staying in the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund’s (JPFPF) DROP program for longer than rules allowed.

The articles have now gotten the attention of the JPFPF – the fund says it will hire an auditor to look into the allegations.

From the Florida Times-Union:

The head of Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund said he will ask his board to hire an independent firm to review the fund’s practices and determine if the fund has been too lenient when it comes to senior members’ participation in the lucrative Deferred Retirement Option Program.

Pension executive director John Keane announced his decision in a four-page statement sent to City Council that takes issue with a Florida Times-Union investigation, “Too Much of a Good Thing.”

The Oct. 19 story exposed how, under strict interpretation of city code, at least three high-ranking police officers and firefighters with strong ties to Keane were able to skirt the rules and participate in the DROP program for too long, or even altogether, piling up excess pension benefits totaling $1.8 million.

The pension fund’s desire for an audit of its own comes as some city leaders are suggesting the fund be subjected to a forensic audit, which typically investigates whether there are grounds for criminal charges.

Details of the DROP program and the city code that employees may have breached:

The DROP allows police officers and firefighters to continue drawing a regular salary while at the same time having a pension placed into a special account for up to five years.

DROP calculations are based on math.

The number of years one works for either the police department of fire department determines the value of one’s first year of pension payments into DROP. Years of service also determine how long one may participate in DROP.

The code says once a member of the pension fund has worked 30 years, he or she is able to participate in the DROP for three years. Those falling into that category are entitled to 80 percent of the average salary they earned over the previous two years. Those with less than 30 years of service may participate for the full five years, but the percentage of their first year’s pension would be less. For instance, someone with 20 years would get a first-year pension that is 60 percent. That percent grows by two percentage points per work year. So someone with 29 years of service would get 78 percent.

The system is set up so one doesn’t get the best of both perks.

But some people did.

Bobby Deal, a retired police officer and long-time chairman of the pension fund’s board of trustees, and Richard Lundy, a retired firefighter and business partner of Keane and Deal, started their DROP participation after they hit the 30-year mark. And instead of participating for three years, they were allowed to remain in the DROP for the full five years.

Because the city does not currently require that a retiree cash out his or her DROP earnings upon retiring, the norm in states that offer DROP, including the Florida Retirement System, these DROP accounts are being re-invested in the pension fund and are guaranteed to grow 8.4 percent regardless of the true market value of the stock market.

Deal and Lundy now stand to make $1.3 million in questionable benefits on top of their regular pensions.

Read the previous Florida-Times Union investigations here.