SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — If Savannah's former police chief gets to collect a $130,000-a-year pension while serving time in prison, then federal prosecutors want to seize a healthy cut.
Prosecutors have filed a legal motion asking a U.S. District Court judge to garnish 25 percent of ex-chief Willie Lovett's monthly pension payments until he's paid off $50,000 in fines and court assessments. He began serving a 7 ½ year prison sentence last month.
As of the end of March, Lovett "has made no payment toward the fine," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sanjay Karniksaid wrote in a court filing Wednesday. The judge had previously ordered the ex-police chief to pay a $3,600 installment "due immediately," the Savannah Morning News reported (http://bit.ly/1NGoR1H ).
Lovett was convicted last fall on federal charges including illegal gambling and extortion stemming from actions before and during his time as police chief. His case caused a recent uproar at City Hall when attorneys determined Lovett, who retired in 2013 several months before a grand jury indicted him, is entitled to collect his pension despite the conviction.
After 41 years at the police department and an average salary of $168,000 during his final years, Lovett's pension is worth $129,487-a-year before taxes.
Prosecutors are asking U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. to garnish Lovett's pension payments at a rate of 25 percent per month, the maximum allowable. Lovett would keep the rest of his money.
During his trial last fall, prosecutors said Lovett pocketed more than $70,000 from operators of carnival trailers used as a front for illegal gambling in Savannah during holidays such as St. Patrick's Day and New Year's Day.
Lovett was accused of taking cash in exchange for letting the gambling trailers stay open for a decade. That included Lovett's four years as police chief.
Ultimately, Lovett's longevity at the police department protected him from having to return at least a portion of his pension to City Hall and taxpayers. A Georgia law requires government workers convicted of crimes related to their jobs to lose retirement benefits equal to three times the cost of their wrongdoing. However, that only applies to public employees hired after the law took effect in 1985. Lovett joined the Savannah police force in 1972.