An administrative judge has ordered Dave Wheeler, former Fire Chief and current town council member of Loomis to pay nearly half a million dollars back to the state pension fund, after evidence showed he was illegally receiving both a public employee salary and a pension.
A local watchdog group helped expose the fact that Wheeler was “double dipping”. Originally the group began to question his authority to hold positions as both fire chief, and council member when they discovered the questionable salary and pension.
According to court documents, Wheeler retired from the Alameda County Fire Department in 2006, and began collecting a six figure pension from California’s public employees retirement system.
Public pension records show last year alone, Wheeler collected more than $139 thousand.
From the same tax pool, he collected a salary of more than $60 thousand for his job as Loomis fire chief. Doing both is illegal.
“At the same time the law enforcer was enforcing the law, the law enforcer was breaking the law secretly behind the scenes,” said Bill Branch, a member of the citizens committee that first called Wheeler into question.
Branch says the Loomis fire board itself protected Wheeler until CalPERS took the matter before Administrative Law Judge Dian Vorters.
A 2010 letter from CalPERS to Wheeler, obtained by the committee, explained what he was doing was illegal, and demanded he either resign as fire chief or stop collecting his pension.
The letter specified his job as Loomis Fire Chief went beyond 960 hours a year, therefore it was not a temporary job.
A month later Wheeler responded saying he would only work the hours mandated for a temporary employee, and promised he would resign within the year. Wheeler remained in his position, however, until 2013, and continued to collect both a salary and pension.
“In the meantime Mr. Wheeler is ripping off that same severely strained pension system,” said Branch.
Janet Thew, another member of the committee, and former Loomis planning commissioner spent almost a year tracking down documents and going after Wheeler.
“The more I learned about him about the fire board, the angrier I got,” said Thew, who added Judge Vortez determined members of the board knew of Wheeler’s arrangement.
Largely because of the committee’s investigation, Vortez ordered wheeler to pay back $461,459 to CalPERS, according to court documents.
FOX 40 made a visit to Wheeler’s home to ask him about his actions.
“He’s not available,” someone at the door said.
“You expect them to be held to a higher standard, and we did not get that at our fire department,” said Thew.