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Retired Munster administrators asked to repay $850,000

William Pfister, left, and Richard Sopko.

INDIANAPOLIS — Two former Munster school administrators are claiming they were entitled to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in supplemental retirement fund contributions and other payments that the Indiana attorney general's office wants returned.

Retired Munster Superintendents William Pfister and Richard Sopko say in documents filed at the Indiana Court of Appeals that the state has no basis for attempting to recoup the money paid to them by the School Town of Munster in accordance with their contracts.

Court records show Pfister received $473,976.07 in alleged overpayments and Sopko $387,528.60, due largely to contract provisions allowing for annually compounding retirement annuity contributions that eventually equaled 42 percent of Pfister's salary and 36 percent of Sopko's.

They argue in an appellate court filing that those payments clearly were spelled out in their contracts that routinely were approved by the Munster School Board, as well as on the payment vouchers, also approved by the School Board, required to distribute the funds.

"It is black-letter law that a party is presumed to know the contents of an instrument he signs," they said.

"Here, each board approval of both the employment contracts and the payments to Pfister and Sopko began the statute of limitations period running for any attempt to recover on those payments."

That was the conclusion reached in March by Lake Circuit Judge Marissa McDermott, who ruled the state waited too long to try to reclaim the payments that began in 2002 when Pfister was Munster superintendent and Sopko assistant superintendent.

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But the attorney general's office last month asked the Court of Appeals to find that the five-year clock should have started when it was notified June 8, 2016, of the potential malfeasance through a special State Board of Accounts audit of Munster schools that re-examined the 1999-to-2014 period following a 2015 complaint filed by the school district's attorney, Kathleen Maicher.

Pfister and Sopko said permitting the State Board of Accounts to delve decades into the past, when its six prior audits of Munster schools during the time period found no malfeasance, would produce "an absurd result" where the statute of limitations essentially is meaningless.

"Whatever roles the attorney general occupies, it certainly does not exist to re-characterize above-board payments as public corruption, many years after the fact, nor as a safety net when a local governmental entity suffers buyer's remorse for how it interpreted a contract provision," they said.

The state now has until early December to file a reply to the arguments of Pfister and Sopko.

A three-judge appellate panel then could set the case for oral argument, or issue a ruling based on the submitted written arguments and the trial court record.

It typically takes one to two months after a case is fully briefed for the Court of Appeals to reach a decision.

An adverse ruling still can be further appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.

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