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PROBING PENSION ABUSE

SUBPOENAS ISSUED by the State Investigation Commission bring to light a probe into charges that some Lackawanna city employees, several of them firefighters, abused the state pension system by illegally hiring substitutes to fill in for them when they were themselves working at other, second-front jobs.

If true, that would violate the law and could result in financial as well as other legal consequences for the employees and, perhaps, the city government, which certifies the payrolls.

Lackawanna officials say they are complying with the subpoenas and have corrected the alleged abuses.

Last August, John J. Baran, the Steel City's fire chief, warned firefighters that he had learned that some of them had paid substitutes to work in their place and had falsely reported for state pension purposes that they were working full time.

Baran ordered that the practice cease. "This is illegal and will not be tolerated any longer," his order said, clearly implying that it had indeed existed at some point in the past.

To the extent that such schemes exist, they cheat the pension system, since those who claim full pension benefits have not earned them.

Moreover, if a falsification of records for one full-time public job permits an employee to work in another public job, then the abuse is magnified, since total salaries are one factor in calculating benefits under the state pension system.

The pension system falls within the jurisdiction of State Comptroller Edward V. Regan. According to his office, in at least one prior instance, when part-time workers downstate falsely claimed full-time status for pension purposes, those pensions were adjusted.

Lackawanna taxpayers, who may have contributed to pensions inflated by phony work claims, have good reason to welcome the State Investigation Commission's probe.

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