It is very difficult for a federal employee to lose a pension after qualifying for retirement. Even if a former federal employee who meets the requirements for retiring is convicted of a felony, the pension is still guaranteed—in most cases.
Under the “Hiss Act,” Members of Congress and federal employees will forfeit their entire federal employee retirement annuities if convicted of a federal crime that relates to espionage, treason, sabotage, or several other national security offenses against the United States. The more typical run-of-the-mill crimes for which a person is convicted—including a felony— will not result in losing a federal pension.
In other words, once a person meets the requirements to retire as a federal employee, it is highly unlikely that a person will lose the money sent to federal retirees every month under the federal retirement system.
Stanley Patrick Weber and Federal Retirement
Stanley Patrick Weber was a retired federal employee. He was an Officer in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He worked as a pediatrician at government-run Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals for several decades.
He retired in 2011 but continued to work at the Indian Health Service until 2016. In 2019, he was found guilty on eight counts of child sexual abuse. The US Attorney for South Dakota, Ron Parsons, said after the convictions were declared: “This defendant is the worst kind of predator there is: someone who’s placed in a position of trust — a pediatrician for God’s sake — who abuses that position of trust to rape and sexually assault the children who’ve been entrusted to his care.”
Weber is now 70 years old. He was sentenced to multiple life sentences. He received the maximum punishment: five life sentences for aggravated sexual abuse and 15-year sentences for his three convictions of sexually abusing minors over a 12-year period in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The judge sentenced Weber to serve all eight of his sentences consecutively and with his 18-year sentence for committing similar crimes in Montana to recognize the fact that each victim was harmed by each separate act of abuse.
In other words, this man who worked as a pediatrician was found to have done really bad things to young boys.
In January 2021, a federal judge ordered IHS to disclose its report detailing the agency’s “decades-long mishandling of a pediatrician who sexually abused Native American boys in his care, thwarting the agency’s efforts to keep the findings secret.”
An investigation by the Wall Street Journal found IHS “tried to silence whistleblowers and allowed Weber to continue treating children despite the suspicions of his peers and superiors. Weber was ultimately sentenced to five lifetime prison terms and is appealing one of his convictions.”
Weber Continues to Receive Federal Pension
As noted above, a federal employee will usually receive a federal pension when the retirement provisions have been in place even after being convicted of a crime. Therefore, despite being convicted for serious crimes, Stanley Patrick Weber continued to receive a federal employee pension worth $98,285.64 per year, presumably because he was not involved in espionage, treason or other crimes involving national security.
Based on his initial conviction in January 2019 of 18 years and four months, Weber could have received as much as $1.8 million while serving up to the 18 years in prison of his initial sentence—not counting the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) applied to federal employee retirement payments.
The continued payment of a federal pension to Weber despite his conviction for heinous crimes created a political outcry. Legislation was introduced in the House and in the Senate to change the federal law to deny pension payments to convicted sex offenders. The bills that were introduced did not become law.
An agency official told the Wall Street Journal that “Since Dr. Weber was convicted in September 2018, the Commissioned Corps has been in frequent contact with HHS Office of the General Counsel to determine what actions, if any, could be taken to stop him from receiving his retirement pay.”
Ending A Federal Pension—Without A National Security Issue
In 2019, the Public Health Service convened a “board of inquiry” to consider the honorable-discharge status of Stanley Weaver from the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, along with his pension and other benefits. According to a letter sent to Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) with the inquiry, “The Corps is requesting to change the characterization of CAPT (ret.) Weber’s service to reflect an ‘other than honorable’ discharge, which would stop him from collecting any entitlements.”
According to Greg Rinckey, a retired Army captain and partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, “It is rare to see a BOI (Board of Inquiry) on a retired person. They’re trying to go back now and say, your service is not honorable, and because of this new information, you should not have an honorable discharge.”
That is presumably what occurred.
In a press release dated March 21, 2021, South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson issued this statement:
The Indian Health Service (IHS) announced they will be stripping former Capt. (ret.) Stanley Patrick Weber of his federal pension and benefits. This announcement comes after a U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Board of Inquiry completed its review of Mr. Weber, who was convicted of multiple felony charges of aggravated sexual assault of minors while he was on active duty as an officer of the U.S. Public Health Service and assigned to IHS.
The Board of Inquiry recommended changing Weber’s discharge from “honorable” to “dismissed” and terminating his retired commission along with all related benefits, including his pension. According to Senator Steve Daines (R-MT):
I’m glad to see the Indian Health Service deny Mr. Weber’s federal benefits and cut off his pension. It is outrageous that a convicted pedophile was receiving taxpayer-funded pension checks while serving time in prison. I will be reintroducing my bill to fix this horribly flawed system and ensure no predator receives a dime of taxpayers’ money.
Senator Daines had previously urged significant action by the Department of Health & Human Services to terminate the pension payments to Weber. He wrote:
If the Department of Health and Human Services cannot stop Mr. Weber’s pension payments, then we stand ready to provide any assistance necessary from Congress that will fix this flawed system. A convicted pedophile should not receive one cent of taxpayer money while serving time in prison. This cannot stand.
A federal agency cannot terminate a federal employee’s pension in the absence of a national security issue as outlined above.
There was not a national security issue in this instance but the agency still terminated a retired federal employee’s pension. There were significant roadblocks. The agency still accomplished what it set out to do—terminate the former federal employee’s pension and benefits.
It was able to do so because of the unique nature of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. It is the federal uniformed service of the U.S. Public Health Service, and is one of the eight uniformed services of the United States. When Dr. Stanley Weaver retired, he had an honorable discharge. When it was changed to a discharge that was less than honorable, he lost the pension and other benefits.
Most agencies would not be able to use this method of canceling a federal employee pension. This was a unique case that obviously required a lot of work and effort by the agency to meet its objective.
If the former federal employee had worked for a different agency, chances are he would have continued to receive his federal employee pension.