SANTA FE (AP) - New Mexico Educational Retirement Board has filed lawsuits against 24 people who received more than $181,000 in overpayments due to a computer error at the teacher pension fund.
The Albuquerque Journal reports Jan Goodwin, the board's executive director said Friday the legal action was a "last resort" in an attempt to recoup the overpaid amounts, plus interest, from pension fund beneficiaries who have not yet repaid the money.
The agency had sent each of the 693 affected beneficiaries up to four letters requesting repayment, and officials say more lawsuits are expected in coming weeks.
"We have contacted them on multiple occasions asking them to pay back the money," Goodwin said. More than half of the $1.7 million in erroneous interest payments - ranging from 66 cents to $306,000 - has been collected since the written requests were sent, Goodwin said.
However, $813,713 is still outstanding, and 308 of the 693 affected beneficiaries have not paid back any of the money. The overpayments came out of the same general pot of money - worth about $9.6 billion, as of April - that is used to pay benefits to current and future ERB retirees. The 24 lawsuits filed in Santa Fe District Court target larger overpayment sums, Goodwin said. The total dollar amount being sought in those lawsuits is more than $181,000.
One of the targeted beneficiaries, Shantle Ramirez, said Friday that she intends to fight the attempt to recover the interest charged in addition to the accidental overpayment.
"I don't have a problem paying back what they overpaid," said Ramirez, who worked as a bus driver for Gallup-McKinley County Schools before leaving the job in 2010. "But I do have a problem with paying back the interest."
The Educational Retirement Board claims it is required by law to charge an interest rate in addition to the miscalculated dollar amounts. It is using a rate of 2.5 percent calculated from the date of the overpayments.
The overpayments were sent only to certain beneficiaries who were eligible for one-time refunds. That means most of the ERB's 30,000 or so active retirees did not receive them.
Beneficiaries who did get them included employees who, like Ramirez, resigned and withdrew their pension contributions, as well as the estates of deceased workers who received less in benefits than they paid in retirement contributions.
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