Watertown retirement officials voted Wednesday to take away the pension of Joseph Deignan, a former Watertown police sergeant who faces 90 days in prison after pleading guilty to federal drug charges.
Deignan, a Framingham resident, pleaded guilty in federal court in August to stealing a driver's license while on the force in 2010, and using it to forge scripts for oxycodone and other prescription drugs, according to the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz. He was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance by fraud, and fraud in connection with identification documents, the prosecutor’s office said.
State retirement law states that if a public employee’s convictions are found to relate to his or her position at all, the pension for that employee can be taken away.
Watertown officials said Deignan, who served in the department for 32 years, has been collecting an annual pension of $55,731 since his retirement in February 2012.
An investigation by authorities found that Deignan was traffic supervisor the night the victim was pulled over in Watertown. Since the individual's license was suspended, Watertown Police Department protocol required the officer pulling him over to confiscate the license and attach it to a report forwarded to the night's supervisor, who was Deignan at the time, according to an affidavit from the US Attorney's office.
According to a statement from the Watertown Retirement Board, Deignan was not granted his pension "as a result of his guilty plea in US District Court to unlawful possession of a controlled substance by fraud and fraud in connection with identification documents. The fraud was facilitated by Mr. Deignan’s use of a driver’s license of which Mr. Deignan came into possession while employed as the traffic supervisor for the Watertown Police Department."
The board voted to cease Deginan's pension retroactively to when he was sentenced in mid-November.
However, officials said in today's statement that the retirement law revoking pension seemed too stringent, noting they wished to take other factors of Deignan's career and life into account while deciding on his pension's fate.
"[T]he law is overly harsh by not allowing for mitigation of the forfeiture, or consideration of the same matters that a court could consider in rendering punishment, such as consideration of the worker’s overall exemplary public service career, or the impact on a worker’s family, or the underlying health issues of an offender," board members said in the statement.
Watertown officials said they will share their opinion with the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission and the Legislature with the intention of amending retirement law to consider these factors when deciding on a public employee's pension forfeiture.
Watertown police representatives said in a statement last year that the department has put in place new policies and procedures to make sure similar incidents would not happen again.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org