Ex-OC sheriff Carona receives $200K/yr pension

ORANGE, Calif. Former Orange County Sheriff /*Michael Carona*/, a felon convicted of witness tampering, is free on bail pending his appeal. He received more than $200,000 in pension checks last year, according to county records.

"I roll my eyes," said Orange County resident Debi Win'e. "I think it's a little over the top when there's so many people that are just struggling to keep their house payments, keep up on their bills."

Carona is among more than 500 former Orange County employees who took in six-figure pensions in 2009. That percentage is nearly three times that in the statewide public employees retirement system.

Healthy pension plans encourage employees to retire earlier with a larger chunk of their salaries, pushing the county's retirement system's long-term debt to nearly $4 billion. The pension list was released after the /*California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility*/ filed a lawsuit.

"We talk about how egregious these pension benefits are, until you really see it and you put numbers to faces and you start saying, 'Wait a second, what is really going on, how do we pay for this?'" said /*Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach*/.

Another pensioner listed is former county treasurer /*Robert Citron*/, who led Orange County into bankruptcy in 1994. He grossed more than $12,000 per month last year, totaling more than $140,000 per year.

"Pretty bitter pill to swallow when somebody like me is on fixed income and they expect me to be supporting them," said Long Beach resident John Deats.

The average county retiree receives less than $40,000 a year. The release of the pension numbers are raising the issue of the pension plan for public safety workers, among the most lucrative retirement plans approved when Carona was sheriff.

"In 2001, as a county, we approved a retroactive, from 2 percent at 50 to 3 percent at 50," said Moorlach. "And that, in a sense, increased their retirement by 50 percent overnight."

Moorlach, who was not on the board when the benefit was approved, is fighting to get it repealed.

A lawsuit that pushed to have the benefit put before voters was rejected in /*L.A. County Superior Court*/ last year. It's now under appeal.

/*Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger*/ released a statement Friday: "As the Governor continues to win pension reforms for the people of California he encourages local jurisdictions to do the same," wrote Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary.

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