No decision on pension for McLean

June 28, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In a surprise move yesterday, a Baltimore pension board put off a decision on indicted Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's retirement request until the city's top legal officer determines if she should be denied benefits.

The seven-member board of pension trustees asked City Solicitor Neal M. Janey for an opinion on whether the comptroller can receive her pension while charged with fraud and misconduct.

Board Chairman Harry Deitchman made it clear that he wanted to avoid any appearance of giving preferential treatment to Mrs. McLean, who could receive an annual pension of more than $22,500.

"Everyone is always accused of treating Jackie differently because she is a black woman," he said. "I want to treat her like everyone else."

The delay left Mrs. McLean's lawyers scrambling to continue her treatment for depression at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. Attorney M. Cristina Gutierrez said she was disturbed by the snag in the usually routine retirement process.

"If they had treated her like everyone else, she would be retired. For her to get caught at a time when she desperately needs her retirement package to continue her psychiatric treatment is not only unfair, it certainly suggests that Mrs. McLean is being singled out," she said.

The main reason Mrs. McLean wants to resign immediately is to get the new health benefits that come with retirement, Ms. Gutierrez said.

Mrs. McLean, 50, has been under psychiatric care since her political career unraveled during the winter amid allegations that she stole more than $25,000 by having a fictitious employee on her payroll. She also is accused of trying to arrange a $1 million city lease of the former headquarters of a travel agency she owned with her husband, James.

She has pleaded innocent to the charges.

In mid-April, on one of her brief releases from Sheppard Pratt, Mrs. McLean attempted suicide with a near-fatal overdose of prescription pills and alcohol. She threatened to take her life two weeks ago, on the third day of lengthy pretrial court hearings. Hours after she was involuntarily committed as a state mental patient, five City Council members successfully sought a postponement of her trial.

Mrs. McLean's hospitalization coverage under her existing medical plan ran out more than two months ago, but Sheppard Pratt allowed her to stay because she pledged family assets as collateral toward bills exceeding $10,000, Ms. Gutierrez said.

Retirement could give Mrs. McLean new medical benefits to pay for hospitalization through the summer. As an elected official with about 17 years of service with the city and state government, she also would qualify for a pension of at least $22,525 annually -- 42.5 percent of her $53,000 salary. However, if Mrs. McLean is convicted of corruption charges, she could be forced to repay all but her contributions into the retirement system.

Members of the board of the Elected Officials Retirement System said yesterday that they are prepared to grant Mrs. McLean's request if no legal problems are found.

Ms. Gutierrez said she would press for a quick resolution of the legal questions. But Mr. Deitchman, the board chairman, called yesterday's special meeting unprecedented and said he saw no reason not to wait for the next regularly scheduled session, in the third week of July.

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