TAMPA - The vast majority of police officers serve the public every day and deserve the benefits they receive. But should officers found unfit to wear the badge also receive those same benefits? The I-Team uncovered several cases of your tax dollars going to officers who resigned in disgrace, were fired, and even convicted of crimes.
Former Tampa Police officer Paul Federico resigned in the midst of a disciplinary hearing on allegations he had sex with a 16-year old girl. He was convicted and he's now a registered sex offender. But none of that disqualifies him from collecting his taxpayer-funded pension. Since 2004, he's gotten $461,648 in benefits.
Former State Senator Mike Bennett says the pension system in place certainly has flaws that should be addressed. Under Florida law and most local policies, officers can only lose their pensions for defrauding the pension system itself or for a felony conviction related to their work as an officer.
"I'm certainly not happy about them getting a pension, drawing down $70,000 or $80,000 a year," Bennett said.
"When you've got somebody who's been a severe violator of the law, to have them benefit from the system is a problem," he added.
Many of the officers who resigned during the Lakeland Police Department scandal still qualify for their pensions. Former Lakeland Police captain John Thomason resigned in August after admitting to sending nude photos to a co-worker. He is currently receiving $6,289 a month, according to pension records.
Tampa police officers Donna Noblitt, Vince Bush, and David Rochelle resigned after their department said they were found to be leaving the job early 75-90% of the time. They have all received more than $240,000 each in benefits since their resignations.
Jim Diamond, who represents police officers for the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, argues benefits shouldn't be revoked in many of these cases.
"One mistake should not take that officer's future away from him," Diamond said.
Diamond says that many officers who resign in the wake of allegations have served the public and put their lives on the line for years prior to the accusations.
"Perhaps they shouldn't work in the industry any longer, but that doesn't mean that the benefits they've already earned through dedicated service should be taken away," Diamond said.
Former Tampa police officer Matthew Dolitsky resigned in the midst of an internal investigation that he traded cocaine for sex and had sex in a police vehicle on duty. According to the Tampa Police Department, Dolitsky pulled a gun on his fellow officers during the investigation and threatened them. Diamond said he didn't believe Dolitsky should be allowed to keep his pension benefits.
"No, I believe when the officer commits such an egregious violation, they've forfeited that right at that point in time," Diamond said.
But under Florida law, Dolitsky will get his pension starting in 2016. He'll receive $2,172 a month for the rest of his life. He was never charged with a crime in connection with the allegations.
Bennett believes the legislature should look into passing a law to allow a judge or panel to review pension cases in which officers are accused of serious crimes. He says the panel should weigh the severity of the crime, as well as the impact revoking a pension could have on an officer's family.
"Whether you like it or not, no matter how you cut it, that person did work to acquire those benefits. His family is depending on those benefits to feed their children in the future," Bennett said.
We made attempts to reach out to the officers whose cases we reviewed. None of them would comment on the record.
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