State treasurer seeks probe of CalPERS CEO

A rowdy, muckraking financial blog that has repeatedly raised later-corroborated concerns about how the California Public Employees’ Retirement System operates has gotten traction with one of its new allegations.

The Naked Capitalism blog’s report that CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost had misled the giant pension fund about her education prompted state Treasurer John Chiang to seek an independent investigation.

Naked Capitalism blogger Susan Webber offered evidence that Frost – who does not have a college degree – allegedly told a consultant who evaluated her job application before her hiring in 2016 that she was enrolled in a degree program at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The Sacramento Bee reported that she hadn’t taken any classes at the college since 2010. Before coming to CalPERS, Frost led Washington’s Department of Retirement Services, which oversees more than a dozen defined-benefit state pension funds.

In May, Webber’s reporting led CalPERS to oust Chief Financial Officer Charles Asubonten for making misleading claims about his employment history before he was hired.

With CalPERS’ new mess, a potentially big problem for Frost is that while she might be able to dismiss questions about whether she was honest over her education as the result of a misunderstanding, Naked Capitalism’s recent reports actually raise bigger concerns.

Accuracy of death-benefits claim questioned

For one example, Naked Capitalism writer Yves Smith last week wrote a persuasive analysis that argued that CalPERS had cherry-picked among data in claiming it was doing a better job processing death benefits in 45 days or less.

“CalPERS used an obviously cooked-up basis of comparison. Rather than take the same time period in successive years, CalPERS instead chose a set number of cases to examine (300 each) before and after a suspiciously arbitrary-looking cutoff date, February 12. Under questioning, the presenters admitted the ‘before’ cases included ones submitted in November and December,” Smith wrote.

“Why does this matter? The beginning of November through end of January is certain to be the worst time of year in terms of efficiency for a government agency. First, you have a high density of holidays compared to the rest of the year (Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King Day). Output suffers due to distractions like holiday shopping, more interaction with family members, and even getting out of the mood to work. Second, many employees also take vacation days around these holidays (and recall that CalPERS employees have generous vacation allowances). So there was also almost certainly reduced manpower to process claims during this period.”

There is no sign that Chiang or others with oversight authority are looking at this allegation. Last week, the CalPERS board made its feelings known about Frost, voting to raise her pay by 4 percent to $330,720 and to give her an $84,873 bonus.

Board officials suspicious of blog’s motives

A Sacramento Bee story last week about Naked Capitalism’s critiques of CalPERS gave space to CalPERS’ officials’ claims that there is something suspicious or perhaps partisan about an East Coast-based blog paying so much attention to a pension system across the nation.

In comments that the Bee reported were intended for Webber, CalPERS Vice President Rob Feckner said, “You’re not from California. Why would you be involved in a California election for that board? Why is it so important to you to get someone elected in that board?” Webber has been sharply critical of Feckner and other board members who have close relationships with Frost.

Naked Capitalism’s tart response: “CalPERS likes to relish its status as the biggest, highest profile public pension fund, but when it gets bad press, its stance is that it’s a parochial organization and why isn’t it left alone?” wrote Yves Smith.

No one familiar with the blog would consider it obsessed with CalPERS. The website’s roster of authors with Wall Street or banking backgrounds is long and their targets are widely varied. The site’s index cites nearly 5,000 stories about the global finance industry versus 98 about CalPERS.

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  1. Hopeful
    Hopeful 25 November, 2018, 06:46

    Mr. Reed, please look past my ramblings and consider what I am proffering. I have evidence to support my allegation please contact me on how I can get it to you.
    I am a Police Officer retired on an Industrial Disability Retirement. I have evidence that CalPERS is embezzling deferred earnings of Police Officers/Firefighters retired on an Industrial Disability in order to cap their benefits to 50% of their final compensation in violation of their contract of employment with CalPERS.

    Police Officer/Firefighters category are mandated to contribute a part of their salary or deferred earnings to CalPERS in an account in the name of the member, in order to receive a contracted benefit from 2% or higher depending on the contracting agency, For me it was 2.5% for each year of service or about $715.00 which was to be added to the final salary based on 50% for me it was $1,607.07 I should have received $2322.07 plus the cost of living allowance of 2% (COLA) for my Industrial Disability allowance, instead of $1,607.07 plus the COLA of 2%. My current allowance is $2,341.18 ($1,607.07 plus COLA of $734.1).

    At the time of your retirement on an Industrial Disability you are given an option to withdraw you accumulated deferred earnings on account with CalPERS and not receive a disability retirement or you can leave your earnings on account and receive a disability retirement in addition to the Industrial Disability Retirement allowance. Because CalPERS only pays 50% of final compensation if a persons elects to withdraw their deferred earnings CalPERS pays the 50% IDR allowance. But for those in the Police Officer/Firefighter category who elect to leave their deferred earnings on account with CalPERS in order to receive their contract benefit of 2%, 2.5%, 3% or higher CalPERS takes the money and rights off the years of services without notice in order to cap the IDR benefits at 50%. At the time of my retirement I had about 32,000.00 in my account and about 8 years of service. CalPERS took my deferred earnings and wrote off my years of service. My sister who is a Correctional Officer is also retired on an IDR her deferred earning was about $42,000.00 with over 10 years of service her money was taken and her years of service was written off. Dale who was a Probation Officer money was taken and his years of services was written off too.

    There is a Lawsuit filed in October 2002 in the Superior Court of California County of Sacramento, case Davis vs. CalPERS #02AS06428. CalPERS never answered the complaint and is in Default. We have copies of memos from the court instruction the Deputy Clerks not to enter default against CalPERS. The Attorney of Record is Cynthia Rodriquez from CalPERS not the Attorney Generals Office. This case does not involve the State of California. It is a private litigation. There is no judgment in the case. We have been arrested in the Office of the Clerks office, declared vexaious litigants, we hired an attorney and the attorney generals office threatened him and in December of 2017 he withdrew after being paid.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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