Government & Politics

Former Missouri lawmaker Ray Salva says federal conviction shouldn’t affect his state pension

Ray Salva
Ray Salva

Former Missouri lawmaker Ray Salva, a convicted felon, is locked in a legal dispute with the state of Missouri over whether he qualifies for a state pension.

Salva, 68, pleaded guilty in 2013 to a federal charge of illegally receiving Social Security payments while working as a state legislator. Missouri says the state’s constitution bars pension payments to public officials convicted of felonies, so it cut off his pension and has now asked a judge to order Salva to repay nearly $30,000 he has already received.

But Salva says he is entitled to the pension because his guilty plea came more than two years after he left the legislature. The constitutional prohibition on pension payments to felons only applies to convictions that take place while a public official is actually in office, he argues.

The dispute is now scheduled for trial in late November. Both sides have asked the court to rule in their favor without a trial, and those requests are pending.

Salva, a Democrat, served in the Missouri House from 2003 until 2010. Court filings say he began collecting a pension from MOSERS, the state’s pension fund, in January 2011.

More than two years later, in June 2013, Salva pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge for illegally receiving about $59,000 in Social Security disability payments while a member of the legislature. Generally, outside earnings are capped for people on disability, and federal prosecutors contended Salva intentionally concealed his state earnings to avoid the cap.

Salva repaid the $59,000.

Shortly after the guilty plea, MOSERS ended Salva’s state pension. It based the decision on a 2006 amendment to the Missouri Constitution, which says a public official “convicted in any court of a felony which occurred while in office” is ineligible for a state pension.

MOSERS later sued to reclaim $29,929 in pension payments it made to Salva between January 2011, when he first collected a payment, and June 2013, when he entered the guilty plea.

Salva refused to pay the money back. In a counterclaim filed with Jackson County Circuit Court, he says the phrase “while in office” refers to the felony conviction, not to when the crime took place. His 2013 guilty plea came after he left office, Salva claims, so the constitutional ban shouldn’t apply.

He wants to keep the nearly $30,000 he has already collected and receive a monthly pension of roughly $1,000 a month, along with interest and costs.

In its filings, the state of Missouri insists the phrase “while in office” applies to when a crime is committed, not to when the conviction takes place.

“Paying Salva retirement benefits after he committed felony Social Security fraud while serving in office … would have been illegal,” it says.

Salva also claims the 2006 constitutional amendment cannot be applied retroactively to his disability fraud, which began before voters approved the constitutional ban on state pension payments to public officials who are felons.

The Missouri attorney general’s office, which is representing the state, declined to comment on the case. Salva’s attorney — Ray Salva Jr., his son — also declined to comment. Salva could not be reached for comment.

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc