The California Public Employees’ Retirement System board on Wednesday ordered former Loomis Fire Chief David Wheeler to pay back more than $450,000 in pension benefits after an administrative law judge determined that Wheeler had violated state law.
The judge had issued a preliminary finding that Wheeler, a member of the Loomis Town Council, knowingly violated state law by receiving a $137,000-a-year pension from CalPERS while also receiving a $60,000 annual salary from the Loomis Fire Protection District.
Wheeler’s pension was for his work as a firefighter in Alameda.
“This is a clear case of pension abuse that CalPERS will not tolerate,” CalPERS general counsel Matt Jacobs said in a prepared statement.
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The pension giant called it a “five-year scheme” by Wheeler and the district to defraud the system. According to CalPERS, collecting a CalPERS pension while working a job more than 960 hours a year is a violation of state law.
Attorneys for Wheeler and the district have said they did not knowingly violate the law.
In a written statement, Wheeler said the decision fails to take into account errors made by CalPERS staff. The administrative law judge rejected those arguments, finding that Wheeler misrepresented his work arrangement with the fire district.
The Loomis Fire District issued a press release saying it was “extremely disappointed” with the decision. The district said Wheeler was responsible for the district joining CalPERS in an effort to help stem turnover among firefighters, and Wheeler and the district sought to follow the law.
In addition to the pension benefits paid to him, Wheeler and the district were told to repay retirement contributions for his time of employment with the Loomis department and to pay the administrative costs of his appeal of the CalPERS 2010 decision that he was in violation of pension law. That amount will be determined later.
Wheeler left the fire district early in 2014.