Convicted ex-cop Ray Wood has a safety net – courtesy of taxpayers and his own contributions toward the state retirement system – to help pay off the restitution he owes for embezzling from the local police union.
The retired Hollister police sergeant who was convicted of embezzling from the officers union over a six-year period continues to receive his pension – $6,721 gross monthly pay – through the California Public Employees Retirement System. He and other public employees convicted of felonies remain entitled to their pensions even while in prison or jail, although Gov. Jerry Brown and others are supporting legislation to require forfeiture of pension benefits if public workers are convicted of crimes related to their work.
It is unclear whether Wood’s case would have been applicable to such a law – he stole from the union, not the city – while he is serving a six-month jail sentence after pleading no contest in February to grand theft and admitting to systematic embezzlement of more than $102,000 from the police union he oversaw as president.
Wood, 54, retired from the Hollister Police Department in December 2010, shortly after running for county sheriff and placing third.
The state attorney general's office in August 2011 filed the grand theft charge to coincide with an arrest warrant. It followed a five-month probe conducted by an appointed investigator from the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
That investigator alleged the embezzlement occurred between March 2004 – bank records did not go back any further – and the end of December 2010 when Wood retired and handed over union duties he had held the prior 14 years. The criminal complaint alleged Wood withdrew portions of deposits in cash and used the police-union checking account to fund activities unrelated to the organization.
Since his conviction, Wood has returned $15,000 to the union and is scheduled back in court Sept. 28 for a restitution hearing to consider the status for the payback. Hollister police union President David Anderson did not immediately return a phone call on the matter.
Wood started his jail sentence in mid-June. During the six-month term alone, Wood will collect a total of $40,326 in payments, according to data provided by a CalPERS spokeswoman. The annual compensation is based on a formula in the local police union contract – as stipulated at the time of his retirement in late 2010, while the equation has changed since then – allowing him to collect 3 percent of his final year’s salary multiplied by the number of years he spent in CalPERS.
His total years of service was 28.796, according to CalPERS. That multiplied by three comes to 86.39 – meaning he makes 86.39 percent of his final year’s pay in retirement.
Wood, whose attorney Michael Raines could not be reached before press time, isn’t the only ex-public employee collecting a pension after a felony conviction. The only public employee pensions that can be revoked in California are those of elected officials convicted of crimes related to work duties.
As the Los Angeles Times highlighted earlier this year, the severity of cases in this state has ranged from embezzlement convicts like Wood to teachers charged with lewd acts against students. There are 25 states with varying laws related to pension forfeiture for convicted public employees. Most of them call for forfeiture when convicted of felonies related to work, while in Oklahoma any felony can result in losing a pension.
In California, there has been an array of proposals to have public employees forfeit pension benefits if convicted of crimes related to their work – one from the governor himself, but to forfeit just the amount accumulated after the crimes occur.
District Attorney Candice Hooper, for one, said she would support such pension forfeiture legislation – “depending on the nature of the crime and whether it is job related.”
Hollister Councilman Robert Scattini, a former sheriff and marshal, believes convicted felons like Wood should receive at least a portion of their pension benefits.
“At least his share, he should be able to get back, plus interest,” Scattini said.