By Evan Lips

MediaNews

A Middlesex County Superior Court judge has reinstated the pension the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System stripped from embattled former Merrimack Special Education Collaborative Executive Director John Barranco.

Following his 2005 retirement from MSEC, Barranco, 70, enjoyed a yearly pension of $157,000 until October 2011, when pension officials alleged he was earning a higher public salary for his work at the related nonprofit Merrimack Education Center than allowed while simultaneously earning a pension.

Judge Kenneth Desmond also ruled Barranco will not have to repay the pension fund $764,504, the amount pension officials argued he should not have received due to his post as executive director of MEC.

The ruling, however, hinges on the outcome of Barranco's appeal to the state Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, the agency that will ultimately determine the fate of his pension.

Barranco's attorney, Nick Poser, said Wednesday his major argument revolved around the fact that while retired public employees are barred from receiving their pension and working another public-sector job, it is not unlawful for them to collect their pension while working a private-sector job.

Simply stated, Desmond sided with Poser's case that pension officials could not prove Barranco was ever directly paid by a government agency while he collected a pension.

"If you think about it the judge did something extraordinary," said Poser. "On Feb. 18 he (Barranco) was not earning a pension and was in the process of having more than three quarters of a million dollars taken away from him. The next day was almost a million-dollar swing."

In his latest filing, Poser appealed to Judge Desmond that Barranco "has no stream of income, other than his Social Security, now that his pension from the defendant has been stopped" and that Barranco "has been irreparably harmed by his pension being stopped."

MTRS officials had argued that the collaborative (MSEC) used taxpayer money to reimburse the nonprofit MEC for more than half of Barranco's salary, which topped $500,000.

Court documents filed as exhibits by James O'Leary, the Cambridge attorney representing the MTRS, show that MSEC reimbursed MEC for 55 percent of Barranco's salary between fiscal years 2006 and 2008.

Between 2006 and 2007 Barranco's MEC salary was $107,250. His salary jumped to $125,103 in 2008 as the percentage reimbursed by MSEC swelled to 60 percent in 2008 and 2009.

According to Barranco's tax forms he earned $426,430 in 2006, $348,896 in 2007, $457,810 in 2008 and $533,842 in 2009. The earnings are a combination of his MEC salary and MSEC pension.

Desmond's Feb. 19 ruling is the latest in the Barranco saga, although Barranco is not the only former MEC official under a pension investigation.

The same month the MTRS canceled Barranco's pension it also started investigating whether former Tyngsboro Superintendent David Hawkins and former North Middlesex Regional School Superintendent James McCormick, who also worked at MEC post-retirement, also allegedly engaged in pension abuse. Hawkins still reportedly receives $97,600 in annual pension pay while McCormick's annual pension is $111,600.

McCormick currently works as the school superintendent in Mason, N.H.

Barranco left MEC in June 2011 when he was placed on unpaid leave after the state Inspector General released a report alleging he misused millions in taxpayer funds, using the money to pad an extravagant lifestyle. The MEC board fired him in September 2011.

Follow Evan Lips at Twitter.com/evanmlips.