Firehouse Felon’s Pension Slashed

CONCORD, CA – A retired Contra Costa Fire captain convicted of stealing everything from toilet paper to chain saws from his firehouse will pay a steep price for his misdeeds — he’s losing most of his generous government pension.

Jon Wilmot’s pension will be cut from about $116,000 a year to $30,000 annually, a county pension board ruled Wednesday, citing his job-related felony conviction for the embezzlement.

The drastic reduction is one of the few applications of the felony forfeiture portion of the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, and followed Wilmot’s Dec. 15 conviction for pillaging firehouses of hundreds of items, from pencils to expensive gear. The 3-year-old law requires pension boards to trim public employee pension service credit back to when the worker first committed a “job-related” felony.

Because Wilmot, 54, committed his first crime against the fire department in January 2000, he lost 13 years’ credit, according to the Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Association.

“He’s losing two-thirds of his income and pension,” said Wilmot’s attorney, Tim Talbot, who unsuccessfully argued to the board that his client should retain his full pension because he retired before the law took effect. “Understandably, it’s devastating.”

Wilmot, who did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, had already paid restitution, and his criminal case has been resolved, Talbot added.

“In a sense, it’s a double penalty,” he said.

The fire district began investigating Wilmot in May 2012 after a colleague filmed him leaving a Mt. Diablo Boulevard fire station in Lafayette with a chain saw, an iron skillet and sports drinks, according to search warrants. Authorities eventually confiscated 268 items believed to be fire district property during searches of his homes in Alamo and Concord, his mother’s Orinda house, and his six cars and trucks. Wilmot was accused of stealing property from stations in Concord, Alamo, Orinda and Lafayette.

After his conviction, the court ordered Wilmot to surrender property, including pistols, revolvers, shotguns, ammunition, knives, bayonets and other items.

Before his arrest, in December 2012, the Contra Costa Fire District filed a restraining order against Wilmot, who then retired, days before the pension reform law took hold. Talbot argued Wednesday that because he retired before the felony forfeiture law was enacted, it should exempt him because the law did not specify that it could be enforced retroactively.

However, the Contra Costa pension board attorneys disagreed, saying Wilmot’s conviction date is the key, and that happened almost three years after the law was enacted, making him eligible for the forfeiture. The two sides argued over language in the law and whether Wilmot met the definition of a CCCERA “member,” since he retired before the reform was enacted.

“You will be making a decision bigger than Mr. Wilmot here,” Talbot told the board. “You will be starting to set policy on how you want to apply this statute going forward.”

Such precedent implications brought Vince Wells, United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County’s Local 1230 president, to the meeting.

“My concern is obviously we don’t support the actions Jon is accused of, but the way the law is written, we question the way it’s being interpreted by CCCERA,” Wells said.

Wilmot’s friend and Contra Costa Fire Capt. Gil Caravantes spoke on the retired Alamo resident’s behalf.

“What you’re going through with Jon is an atrocity,” he said. “He has changed things around and made full restitution.”

Before Wilmot, former CalPERS CEO Fred Buenrostro pleaded guilty to a job-related conspiracy charge in September 2014, and his pension will be reduced from $201,600 in annual retirement pay to about $141,000 when he leaves prison after his four-year sentence. Buenrostro did not challenge his pension forfeiture.

Rather than go to trial, Wilmot pleaded no contest in December to felony embezzlement and a misdemeanor DUI, in exchange for the dismissal of felony charges of receiving stolen property, possession of an assault weapon and commercial burglary. Wilmot received five years’ felony probation, 180 days of house arrest, and a permanent stay-away order from all current and former Contra Costa Fire employees.

His felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor if he completes his probation; however, that would not affect his lowered pension, according to the state law.

Talbot said Wilmot plans to appeal to Contra Costa Superior Court.

From The San Jose Mercury News

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