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In re Watts

November 23, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF FRANK WATTS.


On appeal from the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System, Department of Treasury, PERS# 2-10-214029.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 26, 2010

Before Judges Graves and Waugh.

Appellant Frank Watts appeals the final administrative action of respondent Board of Trustees (Board) of the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) suspending payment of his retirement benefits pending the disposition of criminal charges arising out of his government service. We affirm.

I.

We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record.

Prior to his retirement, Watts was employed as the assistant director and then director of the physical plant for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). On July 17, 2006, the Division of Pensions and Benefits (Division) approved his application for early retirement with a service credit of twenty-eight years and ten months, effective July 1, 2006. Watts retired and began receiving his monthly pension benefits.

On March 31, 2009, a State Grand Jury indicted Watts, along with Daniel Cesario and Cesario Construction Company, Inc. (Cesario Construction), on one count of second-degree bribery of a public official, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:27.2(c) and (d), and three counts of second-degree official misconduct, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2. The indictment alleged that, while Watts was employed by UMDNJ, Cesario constructed a deck and a furnished addition to his home and also provided him with a 1996 Cadillac Deville and a cell phone, all in exchange for providing work for Cesario Construction at UMDNJ.

On May 1, 2009, the Board notified Watts that, at its June 2009 meeting, it would consider whether his retirement benefits should be suspended pursuant to N.J.A.C. 17:1-1.13(a)(4) and N.J.S.A. 43:1-3. Watts retained counsel and made submissions to the Board in opposition to the proposed suspension.

In a June 18, 2009 letter, the Division notified Watts's attorney that the Board had suspended his retirement benefits "based on the nature of the accusation against him and the fact that he has been receiving retirement benefits for more than 3 years." The Division's letter stated that the Board had considered the attorney's statements, his letter of May 20, 2009, and a letter from Watts's psychologist. The psychologist had advised the Board that he had been treating Watts since October 2008 for schizoaffective disorder, major depression, a generalized anxiety disorder, a somatoform disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Watts filed an administrative appeal of the Board's decision, and requested that the matter be transferred to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) as a contested case. He also requested the Board to stay its decision pending the OAL hearing. On July 30, 2009, Watts's wife, Lillian Watts, wrote to the Board and requested that she be permitted to collect her husband's retirement benefits as a dependent.

On August 21, 2009, the Board notified Watts's attorney that his request for an administrative hearing had been denied, citing the reasons set forth in the Division's June 18, 2009 letter. The Board further advised the attorney that Lillian Watts's request was also denied. Finally the Board stated that it would issue a more formal opinion in the near future.

On September 17, 2009, the Board issued its final determination. The Board denied the request for an OAL hearing because there were no issues of fact, and the ...


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