Former Peru State president fined $1,200

Former Peru State president fined $1,200

Former Peru State College President Ben Johnson has agreed to pay $1,200 for failing to disclose more than $450,000 in deferred compensation he received while president of the college.

The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission approved a settlement Friday on a complaint filed against Johnson by Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska.

“It’s the principle of the thing from our standpoint,” Gould said. “I’m glad the complaint was justified.”

The settlement means Johnson has waived his right to a hearing on the complaint and that he admits to violating state law by failing to disclose the deferred compensation package.

Gould filed the complaint in December after learning Johnson, who stepped down from Peru State on Aug. 15, failed to disclose private funds paid to him by the Peru State College Foundation. The foundation had offered the deal to entice him to stay at the college, where he helped enrollment reach record highs and increased fundraising and construction.

By state law, certain elected officials and public employees must file an annual statement of financial interest with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission in which they must list all sources of income of more than $1,000.

But even though he accepted the deferred compensation package in 2003, Johnson never disclosed the arrangement to the commission – nor to the Nebraska State College System Board of Trustees.

Johnson, who now lives in Florida, received his first payment, worth $77,655, shortly after he retired. He will receive payments in each of the next four years for a total of $455,572.

Gould said when public officials fail to report private money they receive from foundations it emboldens private interests to find secretive ways to influence public policy.

“It’s bigger than that because of the threat to public institutions,” he said. “Are we going allow private money through foundations to influence their direction?”

Date: 5/8/2009 12:00:00 AM