Back in May, a bombshell report came out that the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) was under investigation by the FBI for bribery and kickbacks as investment returns were severely inflated at the same time spending millions to buy up real estate in the Harrisburg area.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) subpoenaed PSERS for evidence about illegal “gifts” from Wall Street fund managers who fronted travel expenses for agency staff. The U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia even subpoenaed four members of PSERS leadership to find if its staff and leadership have been trying to cover up these financial irregularities.
At roughly $73 billion, PSERS oversees one of the biggest retirement funds in the entire country, while sending out more than $6 billion in pension checks each year to approximately 265,000 retired public employees. The Freedom Foundation previously published an article about this scandal back in June, but now it turns out we were only scratching the surface.
As of about three weeks ago, the chief counsel for PSERS stepped down after only 10 months on the job as the directors approved a $1.2 million handing of this investigation to outside law firms because it presented too great a challenge with the public, elected officials and members of the PSERS board demanding accountability.
An NPR affiliate in Pennsylvania, WITF, recently reported that now the PSERS board doesn’t want the taxpayers even knowing about this ordeal because “some staff will see the probe’s findings as damaging to their reputations.”
Republicans and Democrats alike have blasted this board and staff leadership for its handling of the scandal and have screamed for transparency.
PSERS is trying to keep this under wraps because its leadership is thoroughly entangled with the teacher’s union, and they do not want one word getting out about this relationship. From what the Freedom Foundation has found, five of their board members have ties to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), and Sue Lemmo, an art instructor and union leader in Curwensville, northeast of Pittsburgh, holds the teacher-only board seat.
This is all taxpayer money from the hard-earned paychecks of teachers and other public employees, many of them being dues-paying union members. More than 95,000 teachers are currently having to pay higher contributions to this pension fund to make up for the recklessness of the PSERS leadership.
Meanwhile, members of the PSERS board from both political parties have tried to sue for access to records to give more transparency to the state and their constituents worried about his massive scandal.
PSEA has been very silent the past five months during this ordeal, and now the leaders at PSERS want to spike this story by refusing to provide any explanation of these “calculation errors.”
It’s hardly a surprise that Pennsylvania statewide leaders have been remarkably silent on a massive scandal that has rocked this Commonwealth. Gov. Wolf cashed more than $10 million worth of checks from public-sector unions during his 2018 re-election campaign, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who recently announced his intention to succeed Wolf, has received millions more — in addition to $2 million from a slush fund created by public-sector unions that accounts for more than 20 percent of his contributions thus far.
Every public school employee, who is or will be dependent on the solvency of PSERS, deserves to know what’s going on within their own pension program. Every taxpayer in the Commonwealth has a vested interest in holding accountable those responsible for squandering tax dollars to enrich themselves. It’s time for Pennsylvania elected officials to shine a light on the corruption at PSERS so it can be rooted out and taxpayers and education employees can have their confidence in the system restored.