Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/15/2012 12:14:24 PM PST

Legislation that aims to discourage corruption by elected officials’ staff members by denying them public pension benefits if they’re criminally convicted has been introduced by Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa.

Specifically, AB 1653 would prevent any member of an elected official’s staff from receiving a pension if they are convicted of bribery, embezzlement or other offenses arising from official duties as a public employee.

Additionally, his AB 1654 requires that corrupt staff members be barred from holding employment at any government agency for five years after the conviction.

“It’s outrageous that corrupt staffers could continue receiving tens of thousands of dollars each year in pension or salary benefits after being convicted of felonies stemming from their time as a public employee,” Cook said. “Those who violate the public’s trust have no business living or retiring at taxpayer expense. My legislation will put an end to convicted felons receiving big paydays from taxpayers.”

Recent San Bernardino County scandals, including the Colonies case, helped inspire the legislation introduced Monday and underscore the inadequacy of state laws on staff-level corruption, according to Cook.

In April, the county Grand Jury indicted Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

The four are accused of various charges including bribery and conflict of interest in connection with the county’s $102 million legal settlement with the investor group Colonies Partners LP in November 2006.

All four deny the allegations”Obviously, the big one we’re looking at is the Colonies case,” said Tim Intyre, Cook’s legislative director. “There are several former chiefs of staff who have not been convicted yet, but if they are convicted, they would still receive a huge pension.”

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