State discovers more excess pension pay

Investigation finds $235K more went to retirees who became contractors

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SEATTLE — Washington state officials have identified another $235,000 in pension overpayments involving retirees who returned to work as contractors.

The Department of Retirement System says it is now seeking to recover about $137,000 from Stevens County and another $98,000 from North Highline Fire District. They were identified as part of an ongoing audit of cases flagged by the state for audit.

State officials began gathering records on retirees last year in the wake of Associated Press stories about a pension system for firefighter and law enforcement officers. An AP story in November described cases in which some workers were able to retire and get rehired into similar jobs without any impact on pensions.

Dave Nelsen, the legal and legislative services manager at the Washington state Department of Retirement Systems, said an audit team has completed a review of 22 cases but have 74 more to go. He expects it will take several more weeks to complete the work.

"We're trying to crank them out," Nelsen said.

In the Stevens County case, the state determined that risk manager James Moffitt retired from his position as risk manager in 2005 but immediately began doing the same job under a contractor relationship. The state is seeking to have the county repay the pension costs during a period when he was receiving both pay and pension compensation.

Officials with Stevens County did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In the North Highline case, which was described in an AP story last year, retiree Steven Marstrom was hired as the district's administrative chief. Marstrom has said that his position was strictly an administrative one. He said that job description meant the role didn't qualify for the LEOFF retirement system — the one used by firefighters — so that it wouldn't disrupt the LEOFF benefits he was earning.

The state disagreed, saying Marstrom supervised battalion chiefs. Marstrom's salary was $8,000 per month and he was also able to get up $1,500 a month for housing.

Brian Snure, an attorney working with the fire district, said officials are reviewing the state's audit report. But he said the district disagrees with the state's assessment.