Police Abuse

NJ Cop Doubles Pension After Spending Nine Years on Paid Leave

Manuel Avila failed a psychological evaluation in 2007, but law enforcement officials decided to allow him to stay on the job to reach a pension milestone.

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By Jared Kofsky/Placenj.com via Wikimedia Commons

Despite not having to show up for work since June 2007, Manuel Avila received periodic increases in pay, managed to double his monthly pension and qualified for free healthcare for the rest of his life at the expense of city taxpayers.

Avila qualified for all those benefits while spending the past nine years on paid leave from the Paterson, New Jersey, police department because he was under investigation for having sex with a female prisoner at the city's jail. It gets worse, though, because that crime would never have happened if Avila's bosses hadn't already been trying to give his retirement benefits a little boost.

The Paterson Press and NorthJersey.com have the details on how Avila—apparently with plenty of help, or at least an abundance of people willing to look the other way—was able to boost his annual pension to about $70,000 from an estimated $32,000 if he had been forced to retire in 2007 when a police psychiatrist recommended removing Avila from the force.

"But instead of forcing Avila out of the police department, city law enforcement officials decided to allow him to stay on the job for another six months so he could reach a critical pension milestone of 20 years, the court records show," the Paterson Press wrote.

While there, he was charged with sexually assaulting a female prisoner. Those charges were dropped in 2010 after the city paid an undisclosed amount of money to the accuser as part of a settlement, but Avila remained on paid leave from the department until finally retiring this year.

The paper reports that state records show Avila's salary was $105,364 on June 1 of this year. In 2007, his salary had been $80,740, according to state records.

Even though Avila's pension payment hasn't been made public yet—the board responsible for that says the paperwork is still being processed—the paper estimated that Avila will get about $70,000 a year, up from about $32,000 a year if he had been forced to retire in 2007.

Paterson City Council President William McKoy describes the situation as "an immensely troubling demonstration of the abuse of the system." He told the Paterson Press that the decision to allow Avila to remain a police officers was never discussed with elected officials and called it a "conspiracy" within the police department.

With apologies to Bob Dylan, it would seem that KcKoy is saying "in Paterson, that's just the way things go."

If you're not one of the taxpayers who will have to pay for Avila's bloated pension (and his medical bills) for the next few decades, this story might even seem a little funny. But there's a pretty good chance that you're paying for someone like Avila, even if you don't know it.

It might be someone like Joe Derrico, a former New Jersey cop who started collecting a $69,000 annual pension when he was just 43 years old because he claimed to be disabled. He wasn't—as anyone who saw Derrico chasing down cars on "Bear Swamp Recovery," a reality TV show about the repo business, would have concluded.

Such scams aren't uncommon. For more than a decade, the New York Police Department ran an elaborate scheme that allowed dozens of cops to qualify for boosted pensions by claiming to be disabled when they really weren't.

These types of abuses go hand-in-hand defined benefit pension plans. Not officially, of course, but incentives matter and all the incentives in a defined benefit system are aligned to make this sort of thing happen.

If your pension is based on a formula, as defined benefit systems are—it's usually a formula including years worked and highest annual salary, but often including special rewards for employees who pass certain thresholds like 20 years in the same department—then getting a higher payout is all about tweaking the formula. If your bosses are getting their benefits the same way, there's a strong incentive to look the other way—or, as in Avila's case, to actively work to find a way to keep someone on the payroll an extra few months so they qualify for the higher benefit.

In a defined contribution system, like the 401(k) retirement plans more common in the private sector, those sorts of games can't be played. Your retirement benefits are the result of your own investments, not a guaranteed payout backstopped by taxpayers and based on a formula that can easily be abused without proper oversite.

Congratulations to Avila on his retirement. Thanks for the years of public service.

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  1. You HAVE to mean 70,000 a year

  2. 70K and 32K a year, right?

  3. In a defined contribution system, like the 401(k) retirement plans more common in the private sector, those sorts of games can’t be played. Your retirement benefits are the result of your own investments, not a guaranteed payout backstopped by taxpayers and based on a formula that can easily be abused without proper oversite.

    I think receiving an employer match plus any contribution diverted from your own current income for nine years while not materially contributing to the success of the enterprise that employs you would be pretty abusive, although, I respect the vast difference between nine years of abuse that would have occurred under either model versus the abuse of paying all of the current obligations plus $38k/year for the rest of someone’s life, and perhaps the life of their spouse depending on the setup.

  4. meh. it’s fucking jersey. what are they gonna do, move?

  5. There’s a typo — it says the crooked pig will get “about $70,000 a month”; should say “about $7,000 a month”

  6. If he made 20 years in 2007 why did he just retire 9 years later? This is terribly written.

  7. Due process, BOOYAH!

  8. A cop ‘failed’ a psyc exam? And they pulled him?

    1. He didn’t shot the grandmother, the pregnant woman or the little girl at the firing range. Had no respect for officer safety.

  9. Avila qualified for all those benefits while spending the past nine years on paid leave from the Paterson, New Jersey, police department because he was under investigation for having sex with a female prisoner at the city’s jail.

    So he’s the department hero, second only to the officers who have gotten away with murder.

    called it a “conspiracy” within the police department

    Well, yeah. He’s the department hero.

  10. Shouldn’t we all just be thankful that a police officer was able to make it 29 years and retire alive? I’ve heard it straight from cops themselves – this is quite rare. They are constantly under fire and just getting to retire is itself a luxury for them.

    1. Just getting to go home to his family at night is such a blessing…. God bless our boys in blue.

  11. Congratulations to Avila on his retirement. Thanks for the years of public service.

    Aww snap.

  12. Everyone forgets just how very bad New Jerskey is in all respects. But I remember.

  13. Alt text: “View from Avila’s Penthouse Apt”

  14. In an additional note, the Union and/or the PD HR office will give ‘Preparing for Retirement’ seminars that lays out to the mid-career cop or civil servant how exactly they can game the pension system.

  15. “Congratulations to Avila on his retirement. Thanks for the years of public service.”
    There was this old bull and a young bull standing on the top of a hill – – – – – – –

  16. Two hundred forty years ago, the Jersey Sons of Liberty would have tarred and feathered this s.o.b., and his superiors, and put them on the next ship to Halifax.

  17. under investigation for having sex with a female prisoner…

    charged with sexually assaulting a female prisoner…

    One of these things is not like the other.

    1. You can’t legally have sex with a prisoner as a law enforcement or corrections officer almost everywhere. In most states, even if the sex was consensual it’s still a statutory crime.

  18. Nothing quite like New Jersey when it comes to abusing the law biding.

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