Milwaukee, WI – The widow of a Milwaukee County deputy, who was killed in the line of duty, has been ordered to repay approximately $160,000 that the county accidentally overpaid her due to their own bookkeeping error.
Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Deputy Sergio Aleman, an 18-year veteran of the department, died in an on-duty crash on the afternoon of July 31, 2012, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
The 49-year-old deputy left behind his wife, Jenna, and their five children, the Journal Sentinel reported.
Jenna was first made aware of the overpayment in February of 2017, when the county’s retirement services offices notified her that they had mistakenly paid her a worker’s compensation death benefit, as well as a pension benefit.
Unbeknownst to Jenna, the office was required to reduce the pension benefit by the amount of the death benefit, but failed to do so for three years.
During those three years, the fallen deputy’s family received $140,000 in overpayments – a mistake that former pension chief Marian Ninneman was aware of for the entire three-year period, but failed to correct.
“In January of 2018 when the workers comp payments ended the county pension informed me that my pension payments would resume but they would be withholding a payment to recoup ‘the overpayment,’” Jenna explained in a Facebook post prior to the board’s decision.
“They are withholding approx 37% from my monthly pension payment,” she wrote. “They explain they are re-couping for ‘the overpayment’, plus interest and dollar for dollar of workers comp paid to me by the county including burial expenses of my husband.”
The grieving widow asked her friends and family to attend the hearing in support of her and her family.
“I cannot put into words at this point how this has affected the lives of myself, my family and our futures on top of the loss of Sergio,” she wrote. “Please if you can, support us with your attendance and/or your voice. Thank you.”
On Wednesday, the Milwaukee County Pension board unanimously voted that Jenna be held responsible for paying the county back for the overpayments – plus about $32,000 in interest – resulting in a cumulative amount of approximately $160,000, WTMJ reported.
“This should not have happened,” Jenna told WTMJ after the closed-session vote. “I base my life on what they told me.”
“This was something that my client had no part in,” Jenna’s attorney, Chris MacGillis, told the news outlet. “She didn’t create the problem, but she’s being asked to shoulder the entire burden of their error.”
MacGillis told the board their actions were “disgusting,” and said he plans to appeal the decision on Jenna’s behalf.
In the meantime, Deputy Aleman’s widow said she will have to sell her family’s home in order to repay the undeserved debt.
The pension board refused to comment after the vote, WTMJ reported.
Milwaukee County Retirement Plan Services Director Tim Coyne later released a statement defending the unfortunate outcome.
“It's vitally important that we protect our pension system and give everyone the benefits they're entitled to,” Coyne said. “It's incredibly difficult when retirees and their family members are caught in the effects from previous errors, but a sustainable, well-governed system will mean fewer retirees being affected in the future.”
“Unfortunately, overpayment errors within our pension plan have contributed to the system's fiscal instability,” he added. “We are working every day to create a system that is sustainable and that helps us keep our promises to County retirees and their families."