Officer Fired For Alleged Overtime Fraud Collecting $73,800 Pension

Jon Lender

Government Watch

June 19, 2011


Benjamin Quinones was fired March 24 from his high-paying state job as a lieutenant on the police force at the state mental hospital in Middletown after an internal investigation concluded that he had put in for 528 overtime hours that he didn't work. Now he has begun collecting a lifetime pension of $73,800.

The first monthly pension check for about $6,150 went out on April 30 to Quinones, the Office of the State Comptroller said last week. The Westbrook resident was eligible for the pension at age 42 because state employees in law enforcement and other "hazardous duty" jobs can retire after 20 years of service regardless of their age.

The comptroller's office says it approved the retirement and pension because Quinones met the legal criteria: He had 21 years and one month of hazardous-duty credit toward retirement.

His pension would have been $3,000 a year higher, the comptroller's office says, but he selected the "50 percent spouse option" under the retirement program. That means if he were to die before his wife, she would receive payments of half the current amount for the rest of her life. Along with the pension, both he and his wife receive lifetime state health insurance benefits.

Quinones' base pay was $84,759 a year, and normally that salary does not generate a pension of $73,800. But Quinones collected heavy overtime pay for years, and, for example, received $175,496 in regular pay and overtime combined during 2010, more than any of the other officers in the 58-member department at Connecticut Valley Hospital, state records show.

Pensions are calculated as a percentage of state employees' average earnings during the three 12-month periods in which they were paid the most. For Quinones, the periods were from Jan. 13, 2006 to Jan. 12, 2007; Jan. 26, 2007 to Jan. 25, 2008; and April 18, 2008, to April 17, 2009. His average pay for those periods was about $148,600, the comptroller's office said.

The comptroller's office said that periods used to calculate the pension came before the 20-month period in which the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services alleges that he was paid $32,000 for overtime hours he didn't work, so the allegedly fraudulent overtime wasn't used as a basis for his pension.

"DMHAS provided a memorandum that categorized the potential fraudulent overtime pay period from 4/24/09-12/20/10," a comptroller's office spokeswoman said in an e-mail last week.

The mental health department says it will seek to recover the $32,000 through legal action.

An investigative report in February by a department personnel officer said that Quinones' superior officers routinely performed only a "cursory review" of his time sheets, and "primarily relied on the integrity and honesty of Lt. Quinones to accurately report his overtime. … Neither supervisor questioned his overtime, or asked him to account for the number of hours he submitted. … There was no established process for the department to account for Lt. Quinones' overtime due to his rank."

Quinones and the president of the union that has represented him could not be reached for comment.

The department also says that Quinones is pursuing an administrative appeal of his firing. The state Office of Labor Relations denied an initial appeal May 23 based on an April 21 hearing, but now a mental health department spokesman says he has filed for an arbitration procedure.

Meanwhile, a state police spokesman said Friday that the department is still investigating Quinones' overtime, based on a referral from the mental health agency.

Connecticut since 2008 has been one of 13 states to have a law to revoke or reduce the pensions of state or municipal employees convicted of crimes related to their employment. It requires the state attorney general to bring a civil lawsuit and ask a Superior Court judge to end pension payments or reduce the amount. The law requires the judge to consider various issues, including the needs of the offender's wife and family.

The first case to be brought under that law is still pending against former Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who was convicted of five corruption-related felony counts almost exactly a year ago, on June 18, 2010. Attorney General George Jepsen is pursuing the case initiated by his predecessor, Richard Blumenthal.

The revocation law was passed in reaction to the corruption convictions of ex-Gov. John G. Rowland, former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano and other officials in the past decade. However, it doesn't apply to them because it wasn't in effect when they committed their crimes. Rowland, meanwhile, will become eligible for a lifetime governor's pension of $50,000 a year once he turns 55 in May 2012.

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter at jonlender.