Take Bribes, Keep Pension?
By Matt McDonald | January 27, 2017, 21:45 EST
The Winthrop Retirement Board is appealing a judge’s decision to allow a state pension for a former police chief who prosecutors say took payments from a video poker operator to look the other way.
Angelo LaMonica pleaded guilty in 1995 to six counts of federal income tax invasion for failing to report payments he received over the course of 14 years while he was serving as a Winthrop police officer.
But he still gets his pension because retirement officials at the time and now a municipal court judge have decided that the guilty pleas weren’t directly related to his work as a police officer.
The retirement board filed its appeal in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston earlier this week.
LaMonica was a lieutenant working as a police prosecutor in East Boston District Court around 1980 when he learned about an illegal video poker operation in Winthrop, according to court documents. He took a $1,000 payment and then $100 a week after that from the operator “in return for his turning a blind eye to the illegal operation,” court documents say.
He later became chief of police in Winthrop, while still taking the payoffs.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation caught up with him in the mid-1990s.
In 1995 federal prosecutors charged him with conspiracy to obstruct enforcement of state gambling laws, extortion, and filing false tax returns. But in a plea deal prosecutors dropped the gambling enforcement and extortion charges, which apparently saved LaMonica’s state pension.
While obstructing gambling enforcement and committing extortion “could arguably even on their face support this direct link” between LaMonica’s actions and his work as a police officer, mere income tax invasion cannot, wrote Judge John E. McDonald Jr. in a Boston Municipal Court ruling last month.
The municipal court case was the most recent review of LaMonica’s pension, which has held up under several instances of scrutiny over the years.
In November 1995, LaMonica was sentenced in federal court to 14 months in prison and fined $20,000. He was released from federal prison December 4, 1996.
Yet he kept collecting from the state.
Committing a crime isn’t enough for a state or local government employee to lose his pension. Under state law, the crime must be linked to the public employee’s job.
Public officials have debated that point several times over the years.
At the time of the plea bargain 21 years ago a federal probation officer objected to the deal, pointing out that it could lead to LaMonica keeping his state pension.
That’s what happened, as a lawyer advised the Winthrop Retirement Board in early 1996 that it didn’t have the authority to withhold LaMonica’s pension. He started collecting about $3,600 a month, according to court documents.
A state commission made an inquiry into the case in late 2002, but the local retirement board again decided there was no legal way to stop the pension.
Then, in early 2016, a WBZ-TV Channel 4 reporter made an inquiry to the local retirement board, which led board members to reopen the case. After a hearing which LaMonica attended but refused to testify at, the board in April 2016 concluded that “LaMonica’s criminal convictions are violations of the laws applicable to his former position as a police officer,” and revoked his pension.
LaMonica, now 78, has collected more than $950,000 in pension benefits since he retired more than 20 years ago, which in theory the retirement board wants repaid.
LaMonica appealed the pension denial to Boston Municipal Court, where he prevailed December 21.
But the retirement board is pressing on.
Michael Sacco, the lawyer who filed the board’s appeal this week, said the false tax returns LaMonica filed are related to the payoffs LaMonica took.
“The Winthrop Retirement Board is seeking further review of the Boston Municipal Court’s decision on the same basis upon which it concluded Mr. LaMonica should forfeit his pension —- the underlying facts in the case demonstrated that his criminal convictions for filing false tax returns directly related to money he was paid in his capacity as a police officer to cover-up video poker machines at various locations in the Town of Winthrop. The Board is confident that a Superior Court judge reviewing the matter will reach the same conclusion it did and reinstate the Board’s decision,” said Sacco, a lawyer with an office in Southampton in western Massachusetts, in an email message to New Boston Post.
LaMonica’s lawyer, Nicholas Poser, who has an office in Boston, said he expects his client will prevail at the next level.
“We feel very confident that the court will affirm Judge McDonald’s decision to restore Mr. LaMonica’s pension,” Poser said in an interview with New Boston Post.
The Superior Court appeal was filed Monday, January 23.