By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — The Kansas Attorney General’s Office is looking into whether the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System broke the law by allowing a former state employee to buy his way into a pension after being fired earlier this year.
Deputy Attorney General Don Brown said the office plans to submit an opinion that will interpret the pension law, which allowed Dennis Casarona to purchase an extra year of service. The opinion will not be legally binding.
“Like all Attorney General opinions, this opinion will be based on a review of current applicable laws and will address only questions of law and not questions of fact arising from individual cases,” Brown said in an email, saying no definitive timeline exists for the opinion.
KPERS officials requested an opinion Aug. 3 from the Attorney General’s Office, shortly after criticism of the agency’s actions came to light.
AJ Kotich, chief counsel for the Kansas Department of Administration, has led the charge to close the loophole, and joined Gov. Sam Brownback in calling for an investigation by Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Kotich confirmed his request was forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office.
But KBI Deputy Director Kyle Smith said his agency has not received a request from the Attorney General’s Office to conduct such an investigation.
Casarona served as deputy commissioner of the Juvenile Justice Authority, but Brownback fired him in March. Casarona’s removal came months before a state audit revealed a litany of issues with the facility, including allegations of mismanagement, lapses in security and abuse of juvenile offenders .
But while Casarona’s nine years with JJA left him short of the decade required to collect a state pension, he used a loophole in state law that allowed him to purchase an extra year of service by paying the employer and employee pension contributions for a 12 month period. This allowed him to total 10 years of employment, the minimum KPERS requires.
KPERS officials said what Casarona did is legal, and he is among more than 50 people who have been allowed to purchase a year of service in the past five years.