The head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission calls it a sweetheart arrangement. And it's netting a St. Tammany Parish private attorney almost $150,000 a year in public retirement benefits. Does he qualify for those benefits? We have been reviewing his records for months for this edition of our Louisiana Purchased investigation, in partnership with NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune.
For the past year, this situation has allowed North Shore attorney Harry Pastuszek to collect $147,025.72 a year in public retirement benefits for his work as an assistant district attorney. He technically retired last summer.
"This may be the only situation like this in the state of Louisiana," says Rafael Goyeneche, president. of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. "It's frustrating, I think, from [the perspective of] a resident of St. Tammany Parish that public funds are being used in this manner."
This is a story that you have to untangle by actually inspecting two public agencies - the DA's office and the St. Tammany Parish School Board.
Pastuszek's law firm does work for the school board, and for the past three years his firm has made about $489,307 a year. We have obtained copies of the invoices the law firm submits to the school board.
Every month, the school system is instructed to write one check to the firm, and a smaller check to the DA's office to cover the public retirement contribution of Pastuszek. That's because the DA's office has considered Pastuszek to be an employee, listing him as an assistant district attorney. His $150,000/year retirement benefit theoretically is based on service with the DA's office, up to July of 2013.
But Pastuszek left his position as first assistant DA decades ago. Still, he is allowed to continue getting retirement credit through his private law firm's work.
We reviewed three years' worth of records from the DA's office, and we cannot find any payments made directly to Harry Pastuszek. All payments from the DA and the school board go to the law firm.
That could be significant.
"You take a look at the relationship that the district attorney's office has with Slidell Memorial, which is probably the best example," explains Goyeneche, "and this isn't a hypothetical, this is the St. Tammany DA's office's relationship with another public entity, Slidell Memorial Hospital. They assign an [assistant district attorney], they pay him a salary - they pay the salary directly to him. Slidell Memorial reimburses the DA's office. And when you compare that with the relationship Mr. Pastuszek has with the St. Tammany School Board, you have to ask yourself, why that disparity? Why that different arrangement."
Agencies all over the state hire private law firms. But we've never found a situation in which an employee of that private law firm is able to receive public retirement credit for his work – until now.
If Pastuszek was not receiving any public money directly - rather, it was all going to his law firm - Goyeneche wonders how Pastuszek could collect those thousands of dollars in public retirement benefits each year.
"This is a sweetheart arrangement that Harry Pastuszek has with the district attorney's office," Goyeneche suggests.
Pastuszek is one of the handful of people who received a second retirement from the DA's office. In July, we reported the DA's office had set up another account and contributed 20 percent of employees' salaries, all public money.
In 2012, the DA's office reported Pastuszek's yearly salary as $139,475; they were set to make contributions totaling $27,895 to that extra retirement account.
"This indicates the very close relationship that Walter has with Pastuszek," Goyeneche tells us, noting that Pastuszek used to be Reed's first assistant in the DA's office and has represented Reed in personal matters.
The head of the state's District Attorney Retirement System could not answer our questions about how Pastuszek would qualify for these retirement benefits if, in fact, it was his firm earning the money and not Pastuszek personally.