Treasurer may have saved pension for wife

By JUSTIN SUPON  |  Jan. 23, 1987
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer may have saved his state pension for his widow with his suicide one day before his scheduled sentencing on bribery-related charges, officials say.

Dwyer had been ruined financially as well as politically by the charges, and two of his close associates said Friday the treasurer may have killed himself in part to ease the financial burden on his family.

In the weeks leading up to his public suicide, Dwyer expressed concern that under state law he would lose the pension upon sentencing, one of the associates said. But by committing suicide before the sentencing, the pension may have been saved, officials said.

Also, it was disclosed the treasurer made a plea for a presidential pardon on the eve of his suicide.

A first of two memorial services for Dwyer was scheduled for today in nearby Hershey.

Dwyer, 47, shot himself in the mouth with a .357 Magnum pistol at a news conference Thursday morning in front of aides, reporters and television cameras.

The two-term Republican treasurer was to be sentenced Friday in federal court for his conviction in a far-reaching government scandal. He faced up to 55 years in prison.

At the news conference, Dwyer repeatedly denied his guilt and called for reforms of the judicial system. He said he had little chance of winning on appeal and added, 'I couldn't afford another trial if I did.'

With his suicide, Dwyer's widow, Joanne, may be eligible to receive the treasurer's state pension, said John Brosius, executive director of the State Employees' Retirement System.

Under the state Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, a corrupt government official is stripped of his pension upon conviction. But most lawyers agree Dwyer would not be officially convicted until sentenced.

In addition to the pension, Mrs. Dwyer may be able to collect $40,000 in life insurance provided for her husband under a group employees' plan, Brosius said.

It was not known whether Dwyer had additional life insurance or whether his homes in Hershey and Meadville will be paid off by insurers because of his death.

A man of common roots in northwest Pennsylvania, the treasurer had little -- if any -- personal wealth, and his legal problems had wiped him out financially.

He earned $58,000 a year as treasurer, but gave up the salary upon his conviction Dec. 18. He had two children in college, including one who moved home so he could save money by attending a local branch of Pennsylvania State University.

Joe Metz, a lawyer who helped represent Dwyer, declined to release the treasurer's legal bill for the six-week trial. But Metz said the firm charges between $80 and $120 an hour for legal work.

To help pay legal costs, Dwyer planned to sell the family's one-story, white-brick home in an upper middle-class neighborhood in Hershey, said Duke Horshock, the Treasury Department's press secretary.

Horshock said it was 'plausible' the treasurer's financial ruin played a part in his suicide. 'But if finances did play a part, it was only a part.

'And I'm sure there were other factors, like the perceived injustice, the end of his political career, the pride in having his name dredged through this so long,' Horshock said.

Dwyer had made a plea in letter to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to get him a presidential pardon, aides to Specter confirmed. The aides said the letter was received in early January.

'I've not bothered you about this before, but now my family and I desperately need your help. Please help us,' Dwyer wrote.

After unsuccessfully trying to contact Dwyer to respond to the letter, Specter finally received a call from Dwyer on Wednesday in which the treasurer personally asked for the pardon. Specter told him the request was 'not at all realistic,' according to Phil Goldberg, an aide to Specter.

Dwyer is to be buried Monday morning in Meadville in northwest Pennsylvania where he grew up, attended college and taught public school before embarking on his political career in 1964.

He served in the House and Senate before being elected treasurer in 1980 and re-elected in 1984.

Gov. Robert Casey nominated G. Davis Greene Jr., the president and owner of a Philadelphia investment counseling firm, to serve the remaining two years of Dwyer's term.

In a letter to the governor, Dwyer had asked that his wife be considered for the appointment to succeed him. A Casey spokesman said Mrs. Dwyer was not considered.

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