Imprisoned City Employee Still Receiving Retirement Benefits - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/16/04-Tyler

Imprisoned City Employee Still Receiving Retirement Benefits

Longtime Tyler Municipal Court employee, Denise Owens, embezzled more than $1 million dollars over five years from Tyler taxpayers. However, as she was sent to jail, she effectively retired and is now collecting on the benefits plan that those taxpayers helped pay for.

When Denise Owens was sent to prison for 30 years, she admitted she stole from the Court, and said she'd try to pay back the money.

She pocketed misdemeanor fines collected at Tyler Municipal Court, and when she left she was on the way to retirement. She's now getting what she and the city paid in.

"Has the city gotten any reimbursement? Can we get any reimbursement? Specifically, can we get reimbursement from her retirement? The answer to all that so far is no," said  City Attorney Gary Landers.

The retirement benefits were put into the Texas Municipal Retirement System (TMRS). Deputy Executive Director Eric Davis says the money still belongs to Owens.

"The benefits are vested in the employee, so recovery would need to be part of some legal settlement. Statutorily, we are required to pay the benefits to the member, short of [the person] causing the death of someone else," said Davis.

Even if there were a lawsuit, Landers says they wouldn't begin to recoup the total losses.

"There's not a direct remedy. We're not able to force her to turn over her retirement for that. Nothing prevents her from voluntarily reimbursing the city for that," he says.

Owens is up for parole in 2008. That's a reason, Landers says, why Owens might want to start paying up.

"Part of that parole discussion will revolve around, 'What sort of restitution or reimbursement have you done?' So, even if there's no voluntary reimbursement at this time, I'm hopeful there may be some in the future," he added.

After her arrest, Owens's co-workers said her lifestyle made them suspicious. She drove a luxury car and boasted of frequent winnings at Louisiana casinos.

The city says it hasn't yet determined exactly how much it paid into Owens's retirement plan.

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