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Editorial: Paying for a dirty cop’s pension seems like a crime

It should go without saying that breaking the law voids an agreement.

For example, if you shoplift at Walt Disney World and get kicked out, Disney is not obligated to refund your expensive tickets. If you get into a fight in the bar of your hotel, be prepared to find another place to sleep. Are you going to jail for two years or more? That’s grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania – even if the spouse isn’t the victim.

And so it’s frustrating to know that a retired police officer collected pension checks after scheming with a superior to sell drugs.

Regina McAtee was suspended without pay from the Greensburg Police Department for five months when she retired in July 2023. That suspension followed the January 2023 arrest of the department’s then-head, Shawn Denning. The two were formally indicted on March 13 on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Denning pleaded on April 16; McAtee on May 1.

From August through April, McAtee collected more than $46,000 in pension payments. Greensburg officials have not confirmed whether a payment was made on May 1. City Manager Kelsye Hantz says the pension issue is under investigation.

Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act prevents retired employees from collecting pensions under certain circumstances, including pleading guilty or admitting guilt or no contest to a felony record. Most are misdemeanors, although some misdemeanors are also included.

The list includes violent crimes such as murder and aggravated assault. It largely covers the kinds of things that break trust: bribery, theft, perjury, etc. Sexual crimes against children were added to the list in 2004. Federal crimes are also included if they reflect a Pennsylvania crime that would result in forfeiture. This also applies to crimes in other states.

McAtee pleaded guilty and overcame the first hurdle. The federal charge is a misdemeanor, so that ignores anyone else. And criminal attempt, solicitation and conspiracy are specifically defined, making it a trifecta.

So perhaps there will be a lawsuit to officially forfeit McAtee’s pension. That should be the end result.

Whether that will be the case is anyone’s guess. Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky spent years approving, rejecting, approving and rejecting his $4,900-a-month pension ($200 less than McAtee’s). Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence at SCI-Laurel Highlands for 45 counts of child molestation.

McAtee worked as a police officer in Greensburg for 19 years and should therefore be considered an incumbent, meaning she would be able to collect her pension regardless of whether she retired or if the city fired her — unless she forfeited under state law was declared.

Because the trial took place over a year after Denning’s arrest, McAtee was able to retire and collect her pension for months. The fourteen months between his arrest and the filing of charges against both officers left the situation in limbo. It is an unfortunate reality of the legal process that it rarely moves quickly.

But if that delay means McAtee continues to collect her pension, it will deepen the trust deception.