By Ryan Kath

BOSTON (CBS) – Just in time for the holidays, an East Boston District Court judge delivered a valuable gift to a former Winthrop police chief, ruling he can keep his pension and will not have to repay an enormous $882,000 in taxpayer-funded benefits received over a 20-year period.

The order reversed the action of the Winthrop Retirement Board, which voted unanimously to strip the pension of Angelo LaMonica following an I-Team investigation.

“Chief LaMonica and his family are pleased with the well-reasoned decision and order,” attorney James Cipoletta told the I-Team.

“However, Chief LaMonica continues to be disappointed that the members of the Winthrop Retirement Board allowed themselves to be misguided to an unlawful action that caused his family such grave hardship and pain.”

The town’s former police chief abruptly stepped down amid a federal probe in 1995. Prosecutors accused LaMonica of taking bribes to ignore illegal gambling activity.

Boston Globe headline about Angelo LaMonica (WBZ-TV)

Boston Globe headline about Angelo LaMonica (WBZ-TV)

However, his actual conviction was filing false tax returns. At the time, the retirement board determined it could not revoke LaMonica’s retirement benefit because that crime was not directly related to his role as police chief.

According to Massachusetts law, public officials only lose their pensions if convictions are directly connected to their jobs.

Two decades later, the retirement board revisited the issue after an I-Team inquiry. Board members determined the income LaMonica did not report on his taxes was bribe money, drawing a connection to his job as police chief.

A U.S. Attorney’s Office press release about the 1995 conviction proclaimed, “Former Winthrop Chief of Police sentenced to prison for filing false tax returns which hid payoffs from video poker operator.”

However, Judge John E McDonald Jr. said it was a mistake to connect the false tax return conviction to LaMonica’s role as police chief. The judge said the pension forfeiture law needs to be interpreted strictly and narrowly.

“The Court cannot and does not base its decision on innuendo or conjecture which may or may not exist in the community or believed by the public,” McDonald wrote, ordering LaMonica’s pension payments be restored.

An attorney representing the Winthrop Retirement Board said the order will be discussed during executive session at a meeting this month. The Board has 60 days to decide whether or not to appeal.

In a separate pension case uncovered by the I-Team, a Haverhill District Court judge recently ruled a former school administrator should not lose his pension and repay $325,000 because it equates to an “excessive fine.”

Joseph Giordano was convicted of steering school funds to himself. However, the I-Team discovered his case fell through the cracks for more than six years.

The Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System is also deciding whether or not it will appeal that reversal.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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