She Stole $73K from Court, Says She’s Still Entitled to $6,500 Monthly Pension

Only in Philly.

Photo by Inquirer Staff Photographer David M. Warren (Used with permission)

Photo by Inquirer Staff Photographer David M. Warren (Used with permission)

chutz-pah \ˈhu̇t-spə, ˈḵu̇t-, -(ˌ)spä\ n 1 : personal confidence or courage that allows someone to do or say things that may seem shocking to others 2 : supreme self-confidence : NERVE, GALL syn see DEBORAH DAILEY

If you stole more than $73,000 from your job, you’d probably wind up in jail, but that’s because you aren’t Deborah Dailey.

Once the deputy prothonotary and the chief deputy clerk of courts for the First Judicial District of Philadelphia, Dailey was fired from her City Hall post in 2014 after her superiors learned that she used a court credit card for tens of thousands of dollars in personal charges. She returned the money two weeks after the court terminated her.

At the time, Dailey and her husband had reportedly been having financial troubles, including a foreclosure action against their home, and she maintains that the stolen funds were used to cover her son’s drug debts.

Dailey was arrested and released without bail and eventually pleaded guilty to one count of theft. Her sentence? Less than three years of probation. Not a single day in prison. Not a single dollar in fines.

But wait. It gets better.

Just one year after she began her torturous sentence — again: for stealing more than $73,000 from her job inside City Hall — Dailey has now filed a federal lawsuit against the city. Why? She wants money!

Dailey started working for the First Judicial District way back in 1979. She put in 35 years before she was terminated, and now that she’s hit the magic age of 55 (her birthday was in February), Dailey says that she is entitled to vested retirement benefits in the amount of $6,500 per month.

Now, if you’re scratching your head wondering how on earth someone who stole many thousands of dollars from their job and pleaded guilty to doing so could possibly collect a pension from that very same job, you’re not the only one. At the end of February, Francis Bielli from the city’s Board of Pensions and Retirement sent Dailey a letter, telling her no dice on the fat pension.

Bielli cited Section 22-1302(1)(a) of the Philadelphia Code. That passage clearly states that an employee’s retirement benefits can be yanked if a court says that the employee is guilty of, among other things, “malfeasance in office or employment” or “theft, embezzlement, willful misapplication, or other illegal taking of funds or property of the City, or those of any official agency of the City, or agency, engaged in performing any governmental function for the City or the Commonwealth.”

If you’re just a regular working joe in Philadelphia, you’d probably look at those regulations and Dailey’s situation and say, yeah, there’s no way she should get her pension. But that’s because you’re not a member of the entitled political class, which includes people like ex-Supreme Court Justice J. Michael “Domestic Violence Jokes are Funny” Eakin, who is desperately trying to cling to his state pension, which could work out to about $140,000 each year. (And hey, why not? His fellow former supreme court colleague Seamus McCaffery, is still collecting his fat pension after his porngate-precipitated resignation.) For these greedy taxpayer teat-suckers, the normal rules don’t apply.

In Dailey’s lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in Philadelphia’s federal court, she makes a few remarkable claims. First, she says that she didn’t steal any money from the city, because, technically speaking, the First Judicial District is a state office. Then she argues that the First Judicial District also doesn’t fit the Code’s definition of an “agency.” And finally, Dailey says that she couldn’t possibly have been found guilty of malfeasance, because there’s no crime called malfeasance on the books.

Is your head ready to explode?

Dailey says that by refusing to pay her the $6,500 per month pension — the one that she’d be collecting right now had she not stolen from her job — the city is, in effect, fining her $2.3 million, the amount of pension funds she’d collect if she lived until the ripe old age of 84. (Neither Dailey nor her attorney could be reached for comment.)

Dailey argues that this “forfeiture” of $2.3 million is unfair, since she only stole $73,000 to begin with, and the maximum fine allowed by the law for her crime is $15,000. She says that her constitutional rights have been violated.

“This lawyer is making a very technical argument, and I think the way he uses his grammar and the way he parses it, it’s inaccurate,” says City Controller Alan Butkovitz. “Of course there’s no crime of malfeasance, but the language of the Code is not the same as the crimes code. There’s no crime of malfeasance, but everyone knows what malfeasance is. If you’re holding public office and you’re stealing funds from that very office that you’re in, that is malfeasance.”

Over the last 15 years, dozens of lawbreaking city employees have had their pensions revoked, most notably Rick Mariano, the councilman who went to federal prison on corruption charges. The city told Mariano that he wouldn’t be able to collect his pension, and he sued to get his own contributions to the pension fund returned in an effort to cover his legal expenses.

“But that was a question where he was trying to get his own money out,” observes Butkovitz. “Even Mariano didn’t try to get his entire pension back.”

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.