A Los Angeles city assistant fire chief earned well over a $1 million in pension pay and an LAPD deputy chief earned nearly $1 million in 2017, making them the highest pension earners in California last year, according to data from a nonprofit watchdog group.
Former Assistant Fire Chief Donald Frazeur received $1.2 million on top of his regular $212,730 annual pension for a total of $1.4 million, according to Transparent California, which collects and posts salary data online. Frazeur couldn't be reached.
Following Frazeur, former LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing earned $995,845 in pension money and $14,867 in benefits for a total of just over $1 million, according to the data.
Downing retired last year after 35 years, the last decade heading up the department's Special Operations Bureau.
He said he took advantage of the voter-approved program called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) that allows sworn personnel to work and receive pay and benefits while earning a pension.
Downing, who retired last year and is now the chief security officer at Oak View Group, which helps venues manage events, said he never took a sick day in his 35 years and never abused the system.
The DROP program was the subject of a critical Los Angeles Times article that said 1,200 participants were taking leave for injuries — some for years. The city is now taking a second look at the program.
Robert Fellner, the executive director for Transparent California, called these types of pension programs for California government workers "a pure wealth maximization scheme."
"It plays into why the costs were so high," he said. "Today's costs really just reflect the generosity of the plan."
The data about the highest earning public safety retirees comes on the heels of a report about the highest earning LA city civilian employee.
Former Los Angeles Chief Port Pilot Michael Rubino's $373,156 pension shattered the record for the highest pension received by any member of the Los Angeles City Employees' Retirement System, according to Transparent California.
He earned the amount due to a combination of a large amount of overtime cashed in during his last year of employment in 2016 that counted toward his future pension, Fellner said.
Chief port pilots direct the daily activities of boats coming into and going out of the Port of Los Angeles. They communicate with ship captains, supervise staff, conduct on-the-job training, and enforce safety at one of the busiest ports in the world.
"It is hard to determine which is a worse abuse of public funds: paying overtime for work that was never performed, or using that inflated overtime to successfully spike one's pension to nearly $375,000 a year," said Fellner.
The Port of Los Angeles has filled previously vacant Port Pilot and Chief Port Pilot positions in order to decrease the dependency on callbacks and overtime, said Rachel Campbell, a port spokeswoman.