Taxpayers will have to foot the bill to pay for the pension, medical and life insurance benefits package for a city police corporal terminated because of a misdeed he pleaded guilty to in Lycoming County Court.
The city has agreed in a settlement approved by City Council Thursday night to pay Dustin Kreitz, 43, benefits consistent with an officer having achieved 20 years of credited service.
Kreitz doesn't retire until he reaches age 50 in October 2019. His pension benefit calculation is to be based on the present rate for a corporal for 2015, or more than the present rate of $32 per hour. His pension application with appropriate supporting documents and calculations will be submitted to the Police Pension Board. The terms indicate the city must buy back any of his military service time that amounts to three years, however, no actual wage compensation is due him.
"That means the city purchases his military time," said Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman.
Council President Bill Hall said Friday it was the lesser of two evils in terms of expense to the taxpayers.
"It beats us having to pay him back eight years of back pay of more than $400,000," Hall said. "It also prevents the city from having to put him back on the department."
"I am very disappointed in regards to this case," said Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, noting the malfeasance and investigation occurred before his tenure.
"It is something our administration had to come to a conclusion with and I believe it's very disappointing to the taxpayers of the city," Campana said.
Campana said "due to the union and additional financial risk to the city" the administration was forced to adhere to the solicitors' advice. "In the long-run, this decision will prove to be a financially sound one for the taxpayers under a very unfortunate circumstance," Campana said.
None of the city officials could place a cost on what's to be paid to Kreitz.
"If we calculate everything he could have made since he was suspended, and the amount of overtime he could have been paid, it would have been a price tag that was more sizeable," Foresman said.
Kreitz joined the police department on Jan. 20, 1998, and eventually began to work on the now-defunct Lycoming County Drug Task Force, supervised by Lt. Thomas H. Ungard Jr., who was one of the primary suspects after it came to the attention of the state attorney general that Ungard and a former city police chief drove to Canada using a vehicle that was seized in one of the task force's investigations.
Kreitz' suspension without pay became effective the following year. After years of legal wrangling in the courts, Kreitz, accepted a plea agreement offered by the attorney general and pleaded guilty in Lycoming County Court to a charge of not filing proper paperwork that he received a television as a gift that was the property of the task force, according to J. David Smith, city assistant solicitor.
The charge was a lesser crime than what was necessary for him to be terminated from his position under the state Confidence in Law Enforcement Act, Smith said. Kreitz had the right to file a grievance and go to arbitration, however, the city didn't want to take the chance of an arbitrator's unfavorable ruling against it and having to pay a significant amount of pay in arrears, according to Smith.
Instead, Kreitz' attorney offered, and the city accepted, the settlement after negotiation between the solicitor and Kreitz' attorney.
Unlike Ungard, Kreitz was not a party in the trip to Canada using a pickup truck seized from a convicted drug dealer, and Hall said he felt differently about Ungard.
"Ungard was found guilty in a trial and can't be a police officer or carry a firearm," Hall said.
"We could not have used Kreitz to testify in court because he was charged with a crime," Hall said. "On the other hand, the man was not convicted."
Campana, Controller Margaret Woodring and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 29, a collective bargaining unit for the city police, signed the settlement.
William E. Nichols Jr., city financial director, said he was not given an opportunity to review the settlement agreement.