Hamilton County government is taking responsibility for an oversight that resulted in illegal pension payments to the county's imprisoned former sheriff.
In the nearly two years since former sheriff Billy Long was sentenced for multiple crimes, including selling drugs and money laundering, he has received more than $50,000 in monthly retirement benefits, but now he will have to repay nearly $4,000 he received as an overpayment, according to the state Treasury Department. And he will not be entitled to any future benefits.
The retirement payments stopped Tuesday after the Times Free Press asked the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System about payments made to former elected officials convicted of felonies.
The state Treasury Department, which administers the program, discovered the error when looking up the information. The department reported that the county did not notify the TCRS of Long's federal indictment and conviction, and has continued to pay him long since he was sentenced in November 2008. As of Aug. 31, Long had received $50,456.
Steve Curry, assistant to the state Treasurer for programs, said his office is now asking the state attorney general to see whether the state should try to recoup the money.
"The financial responsibility for the retirement program rests with Hamilton County," Curry said. "They pay an employer contribution that helps pay the retirement benefits of their employees."
County Administrator of Finance Louis Wright said the Treasury Department has contacted him and he said it was the county's responsibility to notify the state of Long's indictment and conviction.
"That statute (disqualifying him) was adopted in 2006 and clearly it has flown under our radar," Wright said.