SARASOTA, Fla. — Gandhi Lora is no longer on the job, but the former Miami-Dade officer still earns a state pension, which has paid him more than $500,000 since his law enforcement career ended in 2005.
The pension fund continues to pay him $7,200 each month — a decent wage, considering that Lora is a registered sex offender convicted of possessing and promoting child pornography.
Every year, Florida's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission takes the law enforcement certificates of hundreds of officers, ending their careers. But just because an officer loses his or her badge, it does not necessarily mean a loss of pension benefits. Existing laws protecting pensions are so strong that it is difficult to strip someone of benefits, even if that person lost his or her job and freedom after a felony conviction.
In a computer analysis that matched records from the state's 22,000 officer misconduct cases with its list of participants in the Florida Retirement System, the Herald-Tribune identified at least 455 ex-officers who collected or are still collecting a pension despite losing their law enforcement certificate. The offenses that resulted in the loss of certificates included assault, burglary, sex with inmates, smuggling contraband into prisons and sex offenses involving children.
Records show those individuals have drawn roughly $42.5 million in tax dollars from the Florida Retirement System since 1985. The numbers are likely even higher because the newspaper could only identify officers in the pension system using names and birthdates, not Social Security numbers.
Under state law, a public employee can lose his or her pension in only two ways: following a conviction for a "breach of public trust" — a crime such as bribery, fraud or theft from a government employer — or a conviction for sex offenses against a child.
However, the law specifies that the public official must have used his or her authority to commit the sex crime in order to lose the pension.
The Herald-Tribune's analysis found four other former officers who, like Lora, have collected more than $100,000 from the state's taxpayer funded pension system despite arrests for sexual offenses involving children:
According to a 2006 federal criminal complaint, state and federal investigators confronted Collier County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Green after they discovered nearly 70 images and videos on his home computer of "prepubescent children in various stages of undress engaged in sexual activity with adults and other children." The complaint states Green admitted to downloading child pornography.
State law enforcement officials decertified Green in 2008, and he is currently in federal prison. He has already received $211,000 from the pension fund and will continue to earn more than $5,100 a month.
Raymond Meresse, a former inspector with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has collected $227,000 from the pension system since a January 2007 conviction for possession of child pornography. He is in a state prison and continues to receive $5,100 each month.
Former Sumter County corrections officer Larry Allen sent a number of sexual messages to someone he thought was a 14-year old girl. The girl was actually a Citrus County Sheriff's deputy. Allen was arrested and the state commission revoked his certification in October 2007. He is currently in prison, yet has collected nearly $117,000 from the pension system and still earns $2,600 each month.
Former St. Lucie County Sheriff's Deputy George Korzec lost his certificate in May 2002 after a 9-year old girl reported that he had fondled her and showed her explicit photographs. He earned more than $110,000 through the pension system since his arrest and continues to draw more than $1,000 each month. He is currently registered as a sexual predator living in Port St. Lucie.
"I was retired," Korzec said when asked about receiving the pension. "I would rather not discuss this."
Lora, meanwhile, spent nearly 30 years with the Miami-Dade police before he was arrested in November 2003, accused of transmitting images of child pornography online. According to reports, investigators in Ohio notified law enforcement officials in Florida that Lora had sent an explicit image of a 12-year old girl through an America Online chat site. When investigators searched Lora's home computer, they discovered 43 sexually explicit images involving children.
Lora, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, could not be reached for comment.
State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he was frustrated to learn that money from the state's pension fund was going to sex offenders.
"It's mind-boggling," Bennett said. "It's something that we have to get fixed."
Bennett has been among the lawmakers backing changes to the state's pension system on the grounds that it has become a financial burden. A new law that required public employees to contribute 3 percent of their salary to the pension fund triggered a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association.
The Police Benevolent Association later joined that suit, which is ongoing.
Miami-Dade ex-officer Ghandi Lora still draws a state pension despite being a registered sex offender.
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