Pension board goes after CLIP cons

JOHN TAGGART / TIMES PHOTO

Clip worker Algie Cuttee takes a photograph of each property before & after shots for proof that the residents do not take care of their property when they take the notice to court.

Amends with benefits.

The city is using the pensions of several former employees who ripped off Northeast residents to make restitution to those victims.

The city’s Board of Pensions and Retirement has voted to take the pension contributions of eight former workers in the Community Life Improvement Program who had pleaded guilty to ransacking four Northeast houses, Deputy City Solicitor Joshua Stein said last week. The pension board will decide the case of a ninth ex-CLIP employee this week, Stein said.

The pension board’s actions will hit at least one of the men hard, but several had not contributed significant sums to their pensions, had retired and already had tapped much of their own contributions, or had withdrawn their contributions before they pleaded guilty.

So far, none of the pension contributions that have been withheld has been distributed to the victims, Stein said.

Rycharde Sicinski, Henry Turrentine, Algie Cuffie Jr., Algie Cuffie Sr., William Roldan, Wilfredo Cintron, Anthony Scarcia, Jermaine Adderly and Lamont Williams were arrested in late 2009 on charges they had stolen money and personal property from homes in Somerton, Tacony, Torresdale and Frankford from mid-2006 through January 2008. As CLIP employees, they had been sent to clean up and secure the properties.

By September 2011, all had pleaded guilty. None will do more than a maximum of three years in jail, but all were ordered to chip in their shares of $108,000 in restitution to five victims.

In October, Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd signed an order requested by Assistant District Attorney Sharon Piper to tap into the defendants’ city pensions and ordered that the money be used toward making restitution to the victims.

To do that, the pension board had to take three actions. The first was to vote to stop payments to those who had retired and already were receiving monthly checks. The second was to disqualify the convicted ex-employees from receiving city pensions. The third was to withhold what they paid into their pensions to satisfy court costs, fines and restitution.

These are the votes Adderly must face on Thursday, Jan. 5.

In July, the board voted to disqualify Cintron, Stein said, and to withhold his pension contributions. He had worked for the city for almost four and a half years. He did not appeal the decision, Stein said.

In October, Algie Cuffie Sr., who had retired in September 2009, had his $1,700 monthly pension payments stopped and he was disqualified from receiving more, Stein said. His pension contributions were withheld, too, Stein said.

Since payments are at first drawn from money a pensioner actually put into his fund, there might not be much left of Cuffie Sr.’s contributions, Stein said, even though he worked for the city almost 20 years.

The board ruled the same for Turrentine, who had retired in January 2010, about a month after his arrest, and was receiving almost $1,900 monthly. Stein said Turrentine is appealing the board’s vote.

Sicinski, who was a supervisor, had made more than $43,000 in contributions to his pension in his 26 years with the city. He had not withdrawn any of it. He was not retired, although he left city employment in mid-January 2010. In December, the pension board voted to disqualify him from receiving a pension and to withhold his contributions.

The others had not worked for the city more than a few years. Therefore, they had not made large amounts of contributions to their pensions. Some had withdrawn what little they had put in before they pleaded guilty to theft, conspiracy and related charges.

No money has yet been paid out to the CLIP workers’ five victims, Stein stated in an e-mail to the Northeast Times. The pension board staff has collected the documentation on the disqualified employees, but is awaiting the decision on Adderly.

“The original plan had been to send them [to Common Pleas Court] as one package, rather than piecemeal, for the court to determine what amounts need to be paid by whom,” Stein wrote.

Stein stated he advised the pension board to send the court most of the documentation by Jan. 11.

Turrentine is appealing the board’s action, and others still might appeal the pension board’s decisions, Stein said. Only three of the nine no longer have appeal rights, he added. Turrentine goes before the pension board again Feb. 23. If the board upholds its vote, Turrentine can appeal to Common Pleas Court within 30 days.

“If he does choose to appeal, that process could take months to play out,” Stein wrote. “While that takes place, the matter is still unsettled, and thus, we won’t be able to pay any remaining contributions to the court.”

If others appeal, that could add time to the process. ••