Former Loomis Fire Chief David Wheeler is speaking out against California’s Public Employee Retirement System, after the agency’s board of directors affirmed a judge’s order, forcing him to pay nearly a half a million dollars back to CalPERS.
The board claims Wheeler violated state law by “double dipping,” collecting a CalPERS pension and a state funded salary in his Loomis position.
“I would abide by the law had I not been directed that way, and not been misinformed by CalPERS,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler retired from his position as Alameda County assistant fire chief in 2007, and he had been collecting his almost $140,000 pension while working as Loomis fire chief, for which he received a salary from the same tax pool.
CalPERS sent Wheeler a letter in 2010 demanding he resign or stop collecting a pension. He did neither.
The letter specified unless his position was a temporary position “during an emergency to prevent a stoppage of public business … or the retired member has specialized skills needed in performing work that is temporary in nature.”
Wheeler says after receiving the letter, he still did not believe he was in violation of the law.
Wheeler argues his position was only part-time, and told CalPERS that in a 2011 letter.
He didn’t hear back from the agency until 2013, when CalPERS began an audit of Loomis Fire and his questionable pension and salary.
Wheeler also says Loomis Fire was going through a transitional period, and needed his expertise.
“It goes to the needs of Loomis Fire,” Wheeler said.
“I’m sure they could have. But I was looking to serve the community,” said Wheeler, when asked whether he believed Loomis Fire could have managed its transition without him at the helm.
But a judge thought Wheeler was serving himself and ordered him to pay. While he maintains his innocence, CalPERS maintains it made Wheeler aware he was breaking the law.
“Mr. Wheeler already tried this line with the judge and she rejected it,” said Amy Morgan with CalPERS.
CalPERS said in a statement:
“It is the responsibility of the employers and members to comply with the laws of public pensions, which govern members who choose to work after retirement. David Wheeler knowingly violated the retirement law by continuing to collect his pension for more than three years, while working in a permanent position despite CalPERS repeated warnings. Not only did Wheeler express assurances that he would stop working, but he admitted during a public fire district meeting in 2012 that he would be required to resign his position as fire chief. This is a clear case of pension abuse that CalPERS will continue to pursue.”
CalPERS was made aware of Wheeler’s pension and salary collection after a Loomis watchdog group contacted reporters, who then brought the issue before CalPERS.