Providence returns $209K in pension money to Buddy Cianci

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Buddy Cianci has made it official: he will never seek a taxpayer-funded pension from the city of Providence.

A review of city pension records shows the 74-year-old former mayor withdrew more than $200,000 in pension contributions and interest earned from his two tenures leading the capital city on Nov. 14, 2014, just 10 days after he lost his comeback bid to Democrat Jorge Elorza.

In cashing out the $209,169, Cianci agreed to waive his right to seek a pension from the city. During the campaign for mayor last year, he repeatedly said he had no plans to apply for a pension.

“They gave me what they owed me,” Cianci told Tuesday. “That’s what I put in over the years.”

Cianci, who served as mayor for parts of four decades between 1975 and 2002 but was twice forced to resign following felony convictions, stunned political observers by entering last year’s mayoral race as an independent candidate. He lost to Elorza 52% to 45% before returning to his lucrative gig as a drive-time talk-show host on WPRO-AM.

In Providence, politicians who won office used to be eligible for two pensions: one as a city employee, and one as an elected official. The elected-official pension was eliminated in 2012. A review of city pension data last year showed Cianci held $193,574 in his Class A account and $15,596 in his elected-official account.

When former city employees wish to withdraw their contributions to the pension system, they’re asked to fill out two forms. One is for a return of accumulated pension contributions and the other for a return of the interest on those contributions.

In doing so, they agree to not seek a pension and acknowledge that they are subject to a 20% federal income tax withholding unless they roll that money over to an individual retirement account (IRA). Cianci did not say which option he chose.

Had Cianci applied for a pension, it is unclear whether the city would have granted it.

The Providence Retirement Board has the power to revoke pensions for former officials who are determined to have served the city dishonorably. Frank Corrente, a former Cianci aide who was convicted of corruption stemming from his tenure at City Hall, wound up getting a reduced pension after a long legal battle over whether he could collect it. In May, the state Supreme Court told the Superior Court to reconsider whether the city could award Corrente a partial pension.

Cianci served as mayor from 1975 until 1984, but resigned after pleading no contest to assaulting a man he believed had a relationship with his ex-wife. He returned to City Hall in 1991 and led the city until 2002, when he resigned after being convicted on a corruption charge. He served more than four years in federal prison.

Providence’s pension fund was just 29% funded as of June 30, 2014, meaning its $357.7 million in assets would cover less than one-third of the retirement benefits the city has promised its workers over the years, according to The Segal Group, the city’s actuarial firm.

Separately, Mayor Jorge Elorza said this week he intends to implement a three-year corrective action plan that would allow the city to make its entire annual required contribution to the pension system by June 30 each year after Segal said it should only count money it has deposited into the pension system as of June 30 when it files annual financial reports. In the past, the city included the October payment as a receivable and counted it as an asset of the pension system.

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Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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