New Jersey may be investigating him for an alleged $245,000 pension scam, but Monmouth County sheriff’s officer Mickey Donovan has a political ace up his sleeve.
Donovan campaigned for Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Kim Guadagno as Monmouth County chairman of the “Law Enforcement for Christie-Guadagno” team in the 2009 gubernatorial election.
One year earlier, false statements by Guadagno, as Monmouth sheriff, had enabled Donovan to dodge pension rules — and collect retirement pay in addition to an $87,500 salary as her sheriff’s officer chief. New Jersey Watchdog revealed the scheme first.
The connection between Donovan and the Christie-Guadagno campaign adds another obstacle to a year-long inquiry by the Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice. The conflicts of interest include:
- DCJ is probing allegations that may implicate Guadagno, its former deputy director. She held that post from 1998 to 2001.
- Nearly two dozen DCJ investigators and supervisors are “double-dippers” who collect state paychecks and pensions under controversial circumstances, as reported by New Jersey Watchdog.
- Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, Christie’s former chief counsel, is in charge of the DCJ. Chiesa is Guadagno’s fellow cabinet member — and a Christie appointee who serves at the governor’s pleasure.
Despite the conflicts, Christie has not named a special prosecutor or authorized an independent investigation.
Christie and Guadagno have declined comment. The Attorney General’s Office has not responded to questions from New Jersey Watchdog.
Donovan was one of 24 LECG chairs campaigning for Christie and Guadagno. Half of the LECG team — including a state assemblyman and six county sheriffs — were double-dippers who simultaneously collected governmental salaries and state pension checks. (Click here for New Jersey Watchdog’s story LECG’s 12 double-dippers.)
What makes Donovan’s case different from other double-dippers is the degree of subterfuge used in an effort to circumvent state pension rules.
In 2008, Guadagno hired Michael W. Donovan, a retired investigator for the county prosecutor, as the sheriff’s “chief of law enforcement division.” She announced the appointment in a memo to her staff.
But there was a problem. As a sheriff’s officer chief — a position covered by the pension system — Donovan would be required to stop receiving pension checks and resume contributions to the state retirement fund.
Guadagno fudged the job title, so Donovan could double dip. In county payroll records, the oath of office and a news release, Donovan was called the sheriff’s “chief warrant officer” — a low-ranking position exempt from the pension system.
A chief warrant officer oversees the service of warrants and other legal documents. In contrast, the sheriff’s official website identified Donovan as “sheriff’s officer chief,” supervising 115 subordinate officers and 30 civilian employees.
On Guadagno’s organizational chart, Donovan was listed as chief of law enforcement — and the position of chief warrant officer was absent conspicuously.
In a 2009 news release for the Christie-Guadagno campaign, he is identified as “Mickey Donovan, Chief, Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.”
The ruse allowed Donovan to collect an $87,500 salary in addition to an $85,163 pension as a retired county employee.
The Police and Firemen’s Retirement System Board of Trustees referred the case to DCJ for criminal investigation in May 2011
“It’s a double whammy,” said PFRS Chairman John Sierchio told New Jersey Watchdog. “If you’re going to retire under one job title and come back under another title, we have a problem with that. The chief of sheriff is a covered title under the pension system — and they should be contributing instead of drawing out.”
Donovan has a new job title in MonmouthCounty— but he’s still a double-dipper.
In February 2011, Sheriff Shaun Golden, Guadagno’s successor, named Donovan undersheriff in charge of law enforcement — a strikingly similar position, but one that is exempt from the labyrinth of pension rules. Donovan gets an $86,000 annual pension on top of his $92,000 salary.
While sheriff’s chief, Donovan pocketed $227,000 in retirement checks. Since he did not re-enroll in the pension system, he avoided $18,000 in contributions to the retirement fund. If state authorities determine that Donovan violated pension rules, he may be forced to repay $245,000. He also could face potential criminal penalties.