GROVE CITY – The state’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System rejected an appeal this week by a former Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV director who sought to regain pension benefits lost when she pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing from the agency.
Cecelia H. Yauger, former executive director of the MIU IV, lost a monthly pension of almost $7,300, before taxes, in a unanimous vote by the PSERS Board of Trustees.
In November 2014, Yauger pleaded guilty in U.S. Western District Court of Pennsylvania to stealing at least $5,000 from the agency, which receives federal funds. She had also been accused of using her work credit card for personal purchases. She was ordered to serve two months in a community confinement center, followed by three years probation.
The MIU IV, based in Grove City, services 27 school districts and three vocational technical schools in Mercer, Lawrence and Butler counties.
The Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act includes a list of more than 20 crimes that preclude government employees and officials from receiving their full pensions for crimes related to public office or public employment.
After Yauger’s guilty plea on Aug. 29, 2014, PSERS stopped the monthly pension that Yauger earned during 34 years of service to the MIU IV.
In her appeal, PSERS said Yauger argued her guilty plea was not applicable to the state Forfeiture Act.
She claimed she pleaded guilty only to the theft offenses of the federal crimes code and not embezzlement or fraud, and that theft is not covered under the forfeiture act.
Citing a prior decision, the board ruled that federal crimes outlined in the law were substantially the same as two crimes, theft and misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions, that are outlined in the state forfeiture act.
Both offenses criminalize misapplication of property that was entrusted to a public official.
PSERS is the 15th-largest state-sponsored defined benefit public pension fund in the nation. As of Dec. 31, 2018, PSERS had net assets of about $54.9 billion and a membership of more than 256,000 active school employees and more than 233,000 retirees.
Yauger, who went on to work for Greenville-based American Scholar Group, could not be reached for comment.