Wednesday, July 31, 2013

School Worker Charged With Embezzling Gets Pension in Massachusetts

A judge has ruled that despite a criminal charge of embezzling money, a former school union employee will receive her full pension.

On Wednesday morning, the Berkshire County Retirement Board reinstated Donna M. Burdick to the retirement system. Her membership had been revoked by the board in December because of embezzlement charges.

Burdick and colleague Carol Fryc were both charged with stealing funds from the Northern Berkshire School Union, which covers the Clarksburg, Florida and Savoy school districts, and fired in August 2011. State police said the two women, who worked in the office, had used the union's credit cards at Walmart and Staples to make fraudulent purchases, pocketing about $30,000.

The board was forced to reinstate Burdick after losing a court case on the matter in Northern Berkshire District Court. On June 21, Judge Laurie MacLeod ruled that Burdick was entitled to her retirement benefits.

"We tried to revoke her membership and she challenged it in court. And we didn't win," said Berkshire County Retirement Board Executive Director Sheila LaBarbera on Wednesday.

Burdick, 58, had reached a plea bargain in July 2012 and the charges were reduced to a continuance without a finding. She was required to pay back $11,272 to the school district. After one year and paying that money back, the charges were dismissed. Fryc made a similar plea bargain.

MacLeod wrote that because the finding was not a conviction and the charges are now dropped, Burdick has the right to keep her the pension.

The retirement board, however, is unhappy with the finding. The board believes that since her plea was an admission to "sufficient facts for a finding of guilt," it has the right to revoke the pension. According to state law, a person convicted of misappropriation of government funds can have their pension taken away.

"It doesn't matter what they do, they still get a pension," Peter Menard, board member, lamented before reinstating Burdick. Board member Deborah Cotter said the decision is "just awful."

While Burdick was fired from the school union, she retained her job with the town of Florida. Burdick can now make the contributions she would have made during the last year and then retire with her full pension. - See more at:

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