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August 31. 2013 11:36PM

Retirees who owed NH $500k settle, but state withholds details

The New Hampshire Retirement System has entered into confidential settlements with two retired police officers who had been ordered to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged pension overpayments.

In each case, NHRS had decided the pensioner took a job that should have required him to pay into the system and stop receiving his pension.

John Egan, who retired as a Meredith police officer in 2001 and is now community services coordinator for Belknap County, had been ordered to repay an estimated $284,248 to the retirement system, according to a Jan. 29, 2010 NHRS notice sent to him.

Because of the confidentiality agreement, it is not known whether he repaid it, or even if he was required to pay anything.

It is also not known whether Brian Loanes, who retired in 2001 and now works as the director of the Belknap County's Restorative Justice Program, had to repay any on the $248,505 he was told he owed the retirement system.

Egan and Loanes declined comment. Both cases were settled last month, according to Marty Karlon, retirement system spokesman, who declined to release details or the settlement documents.

The New Hampshire Sunday News obtained 2010 notices sent to them and several other retirees last year after filing a right-to-know request seeking the names and amounts in recoupment cases involving more than $5,000 for the previous five years.

NHRS told Loanes and Egan that repayment was due because they retired from Group II positions in the retirement system, but immediately accepted new NHRS-covered positions, which required mandatory enrollment in the NHRS. Exceptions included "part-time" employees and those appointed to fixed terms.

Asked why the state wouldn't reveal the settlement details, Karlon responded in an email: "NHRS' only comment on the settlement is: 'The parties are in agreement that, given the particular circumstances of this case, this is a fair and equitable settlement.'"

Attorney Kathleen Sullivan said the public should be given the details of the settlements.

Representing the New Hampshire Union Leader, Sullivan successfully argued to the state Supreme Court that the public has a right to know the names of people who receive public pensions and the amount of their benefits. NHRS has been releasing that information since 2011.

"When public funds are being spent or recouped or even administered as part of settlement agreements or otherwise, the government should be transparent about it," Sullivan said.

"The public has a right to know what happened in these cases."

The recoupment case against Belknap County court supervisor Donald Belyea, seeking $463,758, was dropped in June 2012, Karlon said. More documentation showed Belyea was deemed to be an "official appointed for a fixed term" and was not subject to mandatory enrollment as an active NHRS member, Karlon said.

A retirement system hearing was held Thursday on a pension recoupment case involving Mark A. Pearson, a retired Salem police officer who left his job as Hudson's assistant town administrator for a job in Maine. He had been asked to repay $280,935, but a decision is not expected soon.

NHRS retirees can work any amount of hours for any non-NHRS employer, public or private, Karlon said, and "part time" for an NHRS-participating employer.

Hampstead Fire Chief Michael Carrier, who retired from Londonderry's fire department after 27 years of service, had been asked to repay $78,403. Carrier's case is still pending before the state Supreme Court, Karlon said.

Carrier previously told the Sunday News he didn't believe he was required to belong to the New Hampshire Retirement System in his new position because he was appointed to a fixed term.

Two other retirees who owed less than $20,000 each settled their cases by repaying the retirement system, Karlon said.

The retirement system has two auditors and investigates anonymous tips, Karlon said.

Since Group II retirees are made up mostly of police, firefighters and corrections officers, they may be more likely to seek employment after retiring because they can retire at age 45 after 20 years.

That changed two years ago for new hires to allow for retirement after 25 years at age 52, Karlon said.

There have been no major recoupment cases since May 2012 when the Sunday News sought information on them.

"Since the number of these cases is relatively small to begin with, I don't know if there is any specific reason no additional cases have been identified over the past year," Karlon said.

It is possible that the enactment of the 32-hours-per week definition of part time for NHRS retirees working for NHRS employers in 2011 has raised awareness of post-retirement employment issues among employers and retirees, Karlon said.

"We continue to conduct employer compliance audits and continue to actively investigate any tips we receive," Karlon said.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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