In September 2018, a Montana jury found Stanley Patrick Weber—formerly a pediatrician who worked with Indian Health Service (IHS)—guilty of four charges related to his abuse of young Native American boys under his care. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in January, and is currently in a jail cell in South Dakota awaiting trial on yet more child abuse charges.
According to a joint investigation by the Wall Street Journal and Frontline today, Weber will be costing taxpayers a lot of money while he is behind bars. In addition to the costs of incarcerating him, the Journal reports that taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for Weber's pension.
By virtue of his 25 years working as a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps—one of seven uniformed services that funnels doctors to other federal agencies—plus five years' service in the Army, Weber is entitled to an annual pension of roughly $100,000.
Absent a change to federal law, Weber could receive $1.8 million in pension benefits while serving out his current sentence. Periodic cost of living increases could raise that figure higher still.
Public Health Service officers, the Journal/Frontline article notes, can be stripped of their pensions only if they're found guilty of committing crimes while still on active duty. The only exception would be for treason, or if their crime was related to endangering national security.
Government officials have reportedly been pouring over the laws to see if there is any exemption or loophole that would allow them (or allow us) to stop paying Weber, but none has presented itself. Absent a change to federal law, Weber will receive a pension until he dies.
That Weber wasn't arrested, tried, and convicted during his 25 years on the job—despite numerous complaints and whistleblower reports—is itself a huge failure on the part of the federal government. Had they gotten that part right, they wouldn't have to pay Weber a pension now.
That the government is still forced to pay out his pension, however, is an extreme illustration of a separate problem with government pensions, whether offered at the local, state, or federal level: they are often treated as sacrosanct regardless of conduct on the part of individual employees that should disqualify them from receiving a pension.
Recall Scott Peterson, the Sheriff's Deputy who failed to engage the Parkland shooter, who is still receiving an annual $104,000 pension despite his abject failure to protect students under his care.
Back in 2014, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that a teacher who had been convicted of 11 counts of purchasing or possessing child pornography was still entitled to collect retirement benefits. A subsequent investigation by the Boston Herald revealed that at least five former teachers were still receiving pension benefits despite having been convicted of child pornography-related crimes.
Then there are the numerous court rulings that have prevented lawmakers in places like Oregon and Illinois from trimming back pension benefits for large masses of public employees whose benefits are busting budgets at unsustainable rates.
Weber's case is uniquely awful and absurd. It nevertheless serves as an admittedly extreme example of how the laws governing public pensions often treat them as sacrosanct even when an employee's individual conduct or basic fiscal reality demands they be trimmed back.