Transcript

The Pension Gamble

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RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

On the track for the fourth race today, scratch 13, 14, 15 and 16. Numbers one and… The turf is firm. Six minutes.

MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent:

[voice-over] This is a story about gambling and making bad bets. It’s about having your retirement that you thought was secure go south.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] We came here to Kentucky because Kentucky’s pension system for its police, firefighters, teachers and other public workers is among the worst-funded in the nation.

RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

Number 3 is Promises Fulfilled owned by Robert Baron, trained by…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] With our interest in pensions, we, of course, noticed a horse called Promises Fulfilled. I decided to place a bet on it.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] So this Promises Fulfilled, what do we think about that horse? It’s like a long shot.

MAN:

You’re going to be, you’re going to be disappointed.

MAN:

Well, today I think a long shot has a chance with the…

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Yeah, yeah, with the mud and all, I know.

RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

The horses are on the way to the first gate. Less than a minute.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] We’re in Kentucky. We're doing a show about the pension problems. You know, the teachers and the firemen and the cops – people who work hard all their lives and are worried they’re not going to get a pension.

TELLER:

It’s crazy. The people that we depend on most in our community.

MARTIN SMITH:

Right.

TELLER:

It got me mad.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] It makes you mad?

TELLER:

Yeah. All right, I’m ready for you.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] OK. Well, in the, in the derby…

TELLER:

OK.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Number 3, Promises Fulfilled.

TELLER:

What do you want to put on it?

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] $100.

TELLER:

To win?

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Yeah.

RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

The horses have raced to the starting gate.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] I had no expectation that the horse would do much. At post time, the odds board had it at around 50 to 1. On the other hand, if it won, I would win $5,000.

RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

And they’re off in the Kentucky Derby! And Promises Fulfilled, great start. Flawless coming out of the gate. Flashing speed on the outside. … Promises Fulfilled off to set the pace.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Well, Promises Fulfilled led the pack for half the race.

RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

Justify seizes the lead. Promises Fulfilled trying to keep up second and inside.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] But in the back stretch, where you couldn’t really see what happened, the horse dropped from first to 15th out of 20.

RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

Here comes Good Magic on the outside for the final quarter mile. Justify turns round in front. Good Magic in the…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] All I knew was that in just two minutes, I lost my $100.

RACETRACK ANNOUNCER:

With Justify… Here comes Good Magic on the outside. Justify turns for home in front. All rise for Justify! The Kentucky Derby was never in doubt!

“KENTUCKY’S PENSION CRISIS” VIDEO:

Kentucky is drowning in a financial crisis. The state’s public pension funds, which fund retirement plans for our teachers, firefighters, state police and other public employees, experienced a shortfall of more than $36 billion.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Kentucky is not the only state in trouble. Nearly half of all states haven’t saved enough money to pay for the benefits they've promised to government workers. In total, it’s estimated they’re short trillions of dollars. That’s trillions. It’s a problem that will affect everyone.

“KENTUCKY’S PENSION CRISIS” VIDEO:

So why should you care? Because the bigger the problem becomes, the more tax dollars will be needed to fix it. That means fewer tax dollars being spent in areas of need, like schools or roadways. Talented teachers and other public servants may look for careers elsewhere.

NEWS REPORT:

Pension problems are sparking some concern for workers in Northern Kentucky.

NEWS REPORT:

Kentucky’s pension system, one of the worst across the country.

GOV. MATT BEVIN, R-Ky.:

It matters what happens in Kentucky because what is Kentucky's problem is New Jersey's problem, is Illinois's problem, is Connecticut's problem, is California's problems, is… Go on and on and on. This is a crisis of epic proportion in the United States of America and it's time we wake up and address it.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] One public employee in Kentucky who wondered if his pension was OK was a history teacher at a local Louisville high school.

RANDY WIECK, American history teacher:

I understood that I would never earn a great deal of money. You enter teaching because there’s a certain warmth you feel for instructing young people and trying to help them.

TEACHER:

We’re going to convert it from chemical to…

STUDENT:

Chemical.

TEACHER:

Chemical! Bingo!

RANDY WIECK:

And so it's an idealism that drives a teacher.

TEACHER:

And that’s the beauty of English. We are learning to be effective communicators.

RANDY WIECK:

But one of the reasons that we accept the low salary is that we won't have to despair of our retirement; that there will be some form of a, a safety net for us when we get too old to trundle into the classroom.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] A guarantee?

RANDY WIECK:

A guarantee. It's a promise. And a good chunk of our salary is taken out from day one and deposited into a retirement plan.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER, Social studies teacher:

If y’all can come up with a good idea for a little project or something you want to do, we can maybe utilize the outdoor…

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Christina Frederick-Trosper, a teacher in Knox County, Kentucky, also signed up because of the promise of a guaranteed pension.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

That’s what I was kind of explaining to them when you get to this one.

I remember my parents telling me, “You know you'll have a pension. You know, you'll have job security. And those are things you can't get in a lot of other places.”

Have a great day, guys. I’ll see you all tomorrow. Thank you!

I knew I would never be rich but I thought I would, you know, be comfortable and have those things that I can, you know, depend on so that I can make decisions for my family, for my kids in the, like, long term – the things that my parents weren't able to do.

GARY SIMKINS:

Everybody sitting here has been betrayed by the state.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] I also met with some police – some active, some retired.

GARY SIMKINS:

It was a major thing for me. I felt if I got hired on this police department and if I did what I was supposed to do, I got my life planned out. I'm going to retire. I have an income coming in. I'm going to get health benefits for the rest of my life, health benefits for my spouse. It, it, it had a major impact on my decision to do this.

NICOLAI JILEK:

It was kind of the same with me. I didn't get into policing until a little bit later than normal. I was almost 30. So I was very well aware of the, of the pension benefit. For me, it was a big deal. I knew that if I could get 20 years out of the career that my wife and I would have health insurance and that I would have some kind of a pension.

SEN. MORGAN MCGARVEY, D-Ky. state senator:

When you look at public servants – your teachers, your cops and your firefighters – the pension represents our promise to them and also an acknowledgment that we might not be able to pay you what you're worth right now, but we're going to be there for you on the back end.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] It used to be that nearly half of all American workers had defined-benefit pensions – a guarantee that you would get a good percentage of your salary and benefits upon retirement.

TV COMMERCIAL:

This is the life. What with my retirement plan and a few dollars I'd saved, I didn't have a thing to worry about.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Workers and their employers contributed funds that were then invested on Wall Street.

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE:

I’m chairman of the pension fund of this corporation. We’re looking for a well-diversified list of high-quality bonds and some common stocks.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Over the years, private corporations have largely stopped offering defined-benefit pension plans. But most public employees still have them.

PENSION BOARD MEMBER:

The policy that we’ll recommend here gives us a 60 percent chance of actually achieving the assumed rate of return.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] The decisions about how to invest and grow pension fund money are made by a pension board and its financial advisors.

PENSION BOARD MEMBER:

If we could do all this and increase the liquidity…

JOHN FARRIS:

Right.

PENSION BOARD MEMBER:

…then we figured it was a double win.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] And for many years, Kentucky Retirement Systems, or KRS, was flush with cash.

DAVID EAGER:

KRS investment return on that money for that period of time estimated to be about $2 billion.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Twenty years ago, it looked as if it would not ever have a problem.

BETTY PENDERGRASS, Kentucky Retirement Systems board trustee:

It’s got to have an interest rate on it that gives us the same earnings as…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Today, Betty Pendergrass sits on the board of KRS.

BETTY PENDERGRASS:

Not necessarily in the stock market, but certainly it’s equitable…

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Where was the Kentucky Retirement System sitting in 1999?

BETTY PENDERGRASS:

It was sitting in, at nearly 100 percent funded.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] But then in 2000, the dot-com bubble burst. KRS lost $1.2 billion.

PAUL E. PATTON, D-Ky. governor, 1995-2003:

I’ve served in the best of times and now is the worst of times.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Kentucky was suffering but politicians were reluctant to raise taxes to pay the full cost of their bills and they began to divert pension money.

GOV. PAUL E. PATTON:

What will Kentucky do? That’s what you’re assembled here in Frankfort to decide.

JOHN CHEVES, Lexington Herald-Leader:

In Kentucky, the pension was used basically as a piggy bank. The problem was, once you started to short your state pensions to cover the budget shortfall, it's hard to just do it the one time.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] One of the few local reporters paying attention was John Cheves.

JOHN CHEVES:

I've been writing for 20 years now about the state’s pension system and its been, you know, sort of a, a slow-motion car crash.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Cheves watched as one governor after another invested in roads, bridges, libraries and more. Pension obligations were not met.

STEVE BESHEAR, D-Ky. governor, 2007-2015:

As governor, I’m thrilled to be able to support this project not only with enthusiasm and congratulations, but with money.

JOHN CHEVES:

I think it emboldened the politicians.

GOV. STEVE BESHEAR:

Specifically $2.4 million…

JOHN CHEVES:

They realize nobody's paying attention. I think they get a little bolder about it and they realize, “No one's looking! I can do this!”

DAVID SIROTA:

They have effectively raided pension funds. And by raiding, it means they just simply have not made the payments that they are morally required to make to fund the retirement promises that they've made to employees.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] David Sirota is a reporter and opinion writer.

DAVID SIROTA:

So instead of making those payments, they've used that money for roads, schools – things that are important, but that other tax revenues are not funding. And, and the thing is, is that the bill will come due. The bill will come due.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER, Social studies teacher:

I had heard kind of rumblings from teachers early on like, “Oh, they're taking money from our pension fund and this and that.” I'm like, “Oh they'll fix it.” You know, and that, that was, I think that's kind of where we were. You know, they'll fix it. And then I got married and I had some kids. And you know, that wasn't what was on my radar. And I think a lot of people were like that.

RANDY WIECK:

I had my head in the clouds. I'm a teacher, I'm busy, I got a family, I got a life. They take a bunch out of my paycheck every two weeks and so that's going into a little pile. It's going to accrue interest. I figure this is on autopilot. I don't have to worry about the pension.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] By 2008, Kentucky’s pension funds were in very bad shape. And things were about to get much worse.

NEWS REPORT:

It’s stunning news on Wall Street tonight.

NEWS REPORT:

At one point, the market fell as if down a well, over 700 points.

NEWS REPORT:

The collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered turmoil in markets around the globe…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] In the 2008 collapse, Kentucky was hit hard.

NEWS REPORT:

We travel to Kentucky for a firsthand look at how the recession is hurting just about everyone.

JOANNE CARON, Unemployed factory worker:

When I first got here things were booming. There, there were a lot more factories that were open and businesses and I mean, you can see businesses are closing all over.

NEWS REPORT:

Kentucky is to horse racing what Detroit is to the American auto industry. And even the sport of kings feels the sting of a global recession.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Nearly every sector of Kentucky’s economy was affected. KRS lost $2.8 billion.

BETTY PENDERGRASS, KRS board trustee:

It punched a hole in the boat. I mean, the boat was taking on water, but now we got a hole. There was a huge downturn in the funding status because of that crisis and you can’t pay that back in five years.

NEWS REPORT:

The economic turmoil of recent years is putting a comfortable retirement at risk for many Americans.

BETTY PENDERGRASS:

So the investment crews are feeling the pressure to get the returns up so that we're generating more money going into the system.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Now you're swinging for the fences.

BETTY PENDERGRASS:

Right.

NEWS REPORT:

With less money available, many pension funds are under pressure to take on more risk by investing in…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Starting in the fall of 2009, Kentucky’s public pensions decided that to dig out from under, they would invest a portion of their portfolio in some of Wall Street’s more exotic and risky investment vehicles like hedge funds.

NEWS REPORT:

One of the reasons why they’re trying to do this is that they’re trying to gamble their way out of the problem.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] And Wall Street was more than happy to answer Kentucky’s call. Pension money is extremely important here.

NEWS REPORT:

Pension funds have plenty of money…

DAVID SIROTA:

The world of pensions is a world of money. And if you really want to dig around the heart of power, of economic power in the United States, that's where much of the money on Wall Street is from.

The public doesn't necessarily view pensions as giant pools of money.

When you say the word pensions, people's eyes gloss over. They don’t really pay much attention. But there's one set of people who are paying a lot of attention, and it's the richest and most powerful people in the world on Wall Street.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] How much money are we talking about?

DAVID SIROTA:

In public pensions today, there's about $3 trillion. Part of it's being paid out in benefits, and much of it being invested.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] But here is where it gets tricky. Knowing how to invest is difficult.

BOARD MEMBER:

I’d like to go through all the recommended policies and vote en masse, and then if someone…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Some trustees have financial experience, but others are police and firefighters appointed to the board to represent their coworkers, often not trained in portfolio management.

BOARD MEMBER:

They’ve got their correlation matrices and their risk and return assumptions by asset class from the previous…

BETTY PENDERGRASS:

It's complicated and some of our trustees don't have that skill set. They're better at fighting fires than I am. They're better at catching criminals than I am. But they don't have the financial skills.

I would like to see Sharpe ratios for each one of the major asset classes just to see where…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Today, Betty Pendergrass is a trustee who has investment experience.

BETTY PENDERGRASS:

…is are we getting paid for the risk we’re taking?

MARTIN SMITH:

I mean, you know that on Wall Street they call pension funds “dumb money.”

BETTY PENDERGRASS:

[laughs] That, that, that hurts but it's true.

JOHN FARRIS:

What I would say is the bounds of reason are 350 above the ten-year treasuries.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] John Farris is an investment manager in Lexington. Until recently, he chaired the KRS board. He says that Wall Street regularly exploits pension funds.

JOHN FARRIS:

I stated as a board chairman that we were…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] In 2008, only two members of the board had any investment management experience.

BOARD MEMBER:

They are much healthier.

JOHN FARRIS:

I think that the pension board that was put together between 2008 and 2016 was probably the dumbest of money.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] And thus, you're $60 billion in the hole.

JOHN FARRIS:

Exactly.

MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent:

[on camera] How did they amass hundreds of investments when they have no experience in how to choose? They just take anything that's recommended?

JOHN FARRIS:

Well, it seemed that way. A lot of them will say, will, will openly admit they’re not even, you know, sure what they’re voting on.

GARY SIMKINS, Retired Louisville police lieutenant:

I trusted the state to deal with my money. OK? I don’t know nothing about doing that.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Among those police I spoke to, one had served two terms as a KRS trustee.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Ed, you were a trustee.

ED DAVIS, Former KRS board trustee:

Yes.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Now in all due respect, you’re a police officer. Are you in a position or equipped to be able to evaluate a complex financial instrument like a hedge fund?

ED DAVIS:

One of the first things we were told as elected trustees when you went on the board, one of your responsibilities would be to get yourself educated. And the first question I had was how to do it. The retirement system sent me and other trustees to different investment symposiums. It's a complex thing. I did not claim to be an expert in the pension system. I knew a little bit about it, and I did to the best of my ability to make the best decision with the information I had at the time.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Even with the best information, it’s hard to choose a winner. Think of that horse race with only 20 entries. In the world of high finance, there are 10,000 hedge funds. How do you know where to bet? One of the first ones KRS chose was called Arrowhawk Durable Alpha. It had no track record and long odds.

JOHN CHEVES, Lexington Herald-Leader:

Arrowhawk was one of the first sort of alternative investments, as we call it, where we had these third-party middlemen who had come to Kentucky Retirement Systems and introduced KRS to these alternative investments. They came to KRS and said, “You should be putting your money in these funds and we think these are the best places for you to invest the, the state’s money.”

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] These middlemen are called placement agents.

JOHN CHEVES:

Apparently, unbeknownst to us, the placement agents were being paid fees so they were compensated very generously for us giving our business to these funds. The lead placement agent for Arrowhawk was a fellow from New York named Glen Sergeon.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Yeah, this is Glen Sergeon.

CHRIS TOBE, Author, “Kentucky Fried Pensions”:

Yes.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] So this guy, he was the salesman for Arrowhawk?

CHRIS TOBE:

Correct.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] In 2009, when Arrowhawk was being considered, the only person on the KRS board with much investment management experience was Chris Tobe. He thought it was a risky bet.

CHRIS TOBE:

The first time you hire a hedge fund, you're looking for a fund that has a track record, experience.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Right. And this one didn’t.

CHRIS TOBE:

Correct. But Glen Sergeon had a relationship with Adam Tosh, the chief investment officer of KRS at the time. Tosh sold us that.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Tobe told me that KRS’ chief investment officer, Adam Tosh, convinced the board to invest in Arrowhawk, which resulted in a large fee from Arrowhawk for Tosh’s man, Glen Sergeon.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] And how much money was he paid to bring in Arrowhawk?

CHRIS TOBE:

Two million for Arrowhawk. But he brought in some other investments to total to the six million.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] But at the time of the vote, the board didn’t know there was a placement agent operating in the background.

CHRIS TOBE:

…quickly because it was never disclosed in, in financial statements. It was never disclosed anywhere that, that even the existence of placement agents.

TED SIEDLE, Financial crimes investigator:

I think that one of the key issues is disclosure of placement agent fees and as…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Tobe then hired Ted Siedle, a financial crimes investigator. They eventually filed a 32-page complaint to the SEC. The SEC and state auditors investigated and found no laws were broken. But the auditors did conclude that Tosh violated KRS’s disclosure rules.

TED SIEDLE:

Tosh went to work for a…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Tosh left Kentucky and has not returned our calls. Sergeon has since died.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] What’s the headline here?

TED SIEDLE:

Well, the headline was that there were these abuses involving placement agents. $14 million had been paid to undisclosed individuals for doing little or nothing. It was happening all over the country. Public funds pay hundreds of millions in placement agent fees. So it's a significant problem and it’s a real waste of retirement savings.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Arrowhawk proved to be a loser. After KRS invested $100 million, the fund failed and closed down. KRS eventually recouped its money from Arrowhawk. But another hedge fund investment involved the Camelot Group. Camelot had a manager who, in a separate case, was charged and pled guilty to personally pocketing over $9 million of investors’ money. Despite this, KRS would continue to invest in more hedge funds.

ANN OLDFATHER, Plaintiffs’ attorney:

It was a great big put all of the chips on the red seven. That's what we're going to do with pension money for firefighters and cops and janitors.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Ann Oldfather is a Louisville attorney who recently represented firefighters in a pension-related lawsuit.

ANN OLDFATHER:

They decided we’re not going to go public. We're not going to say we need help. We're going to try to save our rears and this'll work. Isn't that what the gambler always dreams? And so they start the beauty contest. And they have perhaps 15 hedge fund managers that they interview and meet with and talk to and whittle it down to the final three winners.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] The winners were Pacific Alternative Asset Management Company or PAAMCO, Prisma Capital Partners and Blackstone Alternative Asset Management. Each offered KRS so-called funds of funds – umbrella vehicles that contain dozens of underlying hedge funds. With multiple layers of often hidden fees, they are sometimes called “black boxes.”

ANN OLDFATHER:

They're putting them together in these black boxes which they so niftily named the Henry Clay Fund, the Daniel Boone Fund, and the Newport Colonel’s Fund. All, for your viewers that are outside of Kentucky, famous names or entities here in Kentucky.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Today hedge funds are deemed by many investment professionals as inappropriate for public pensions because they are expensive and lack transparency.

While hedge funds contributed only some of Kentucky’s pension woes, two class-action litigators from San Diego – Bill and Michelle Lerach – sensed an opportunity here. In 2017, they set up office in Louisville. They said they were coming to the rescue of Kentucky’s state workers.

MICHELLE LERACH, Plaintiffs’ attorney:

We are talking about the retirement of 350,000-plus individuals. And we're also talking about a matter which, quite frankly, could bankrupt the state. There is so much that we don't know. I'm trying to find out: What happened here?

OK, that’s fine. We’re just going to not look at it until we get a resubmit. Yeah?

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] The Lerachs had successfully sued Enron for over $7 billion in damages. But Bill Lerach had been disbarred and jailed for illegally paying plaintiffs in some other class-action lawsuits. So they enlisted Ann Oldfather as their lead counsel.

ANN OLDFATHER:

Probably is a little bit of watching their own backs.

Our team of lawyers are blessed to have as our consultant Bill Lerach, who's a disbarred attorney, but indeed, an expert in pension fund analysis. And so we have somebody right there at our beck and call who has educated us about the breadth of this problem throughout the United States. Kentucky might be the first one to go down, but it won't be the last.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] As lead plaintiff, they tapped an old friend of Michelle Lerach’s – Jeff Mayberry, a retired state trooper.

JEFF MAYBERRY, Retired state trooper:

From what I understand, the funds were fraught with inflated fees. Allegedly, they were exorbitant. They were nonstandard. They were not of the norm.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Tens of millions of dollars.

JEFF MAYBERRY:

That's what I understand.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] In the spring of 2018, we attended a pretrial hearing in a courtroom in Frankfort. Mayberry faced 31 defense attorneys representing KRS board members, their financial advisors and the three hedge fund companies.

JEFF MAYBERRY:

Obviously, the number of defense attorneys did make me realize that there's some big money here, and they can afford the best in the country.

ANN OLDFATHER:

The agreements that these three hedge fund companies entered into with KRS were always declared a secret. We could never have been able to find them in any public record. We’ve never been able to find them on KRS’s website. All of these defendants, your honor, are seeking to keep private their dealings with KRS because that’s…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] The defense has called for the case to be dismissed. But Oldfather argues that the hedge funds need to fully verify that KRS got all the money it should have received; that the funds didn’t cheat KRS by charging hidden fees.

ANN OLDFATHER:

There are abundant examples, your honor, where these three fund managers told KRS “Oh, this subfund manager refuses to disclose their fee” charged to the public and the taxpayers of Kentucky.

MARIN SMITH:

They say you're on a big fishing expedition, looking for damaging inside information that you don’t really know if it’s there.

ANN OLDFATHER:

The United States Supreme Court has said that the point of discovery is to be on a fishing expedition. And it is the beauty of civil litigation that we don't have to know 100 percent of what everybody did when we filed the lawsuit. When we survive those motions to dismiss, it's going to be time for discovery. And I am going to snag a lot of fish.

BARBARA EDELMAN, Attorney for PAAMCO Prisma:

There is a belief on their part that if you file a lawsuit and you get your hands on something, the public then gets to know about it, and I’ve never seen…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] PAAMCO and Prisma said in a letter to FRONTLINE they did exactly what they were hired to do, but declined to be interviewed. Blackstone’s attorney spoke to us about the fees.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] We don’t know what the fees were exactly.

BRAD S. KARP, Attorney for Blackstone:

I, I can tell you what Blackstone's fees were.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Right. We know what Blackstone's fees were. That was disclosed. But then there's a whole set of subfees. And if you read the contract, there's no specificity. It's vague.

BRAD S. KARP:

The, the fees were disclosed. The nature of the fees were disclosed. The contract laid out the fee structure for the underlying portfolio funds.

MARTIN SMITH:

In vague terms.

BRAD S. KARP:

You're characterizing it a certain way. It laid out the fee structures.

MARTIN SMITH:

There’s no transparency issue in your view?

BRAD S. KARP:

There is no transparency issue. They know exactly what they received. There were target benchmarks that were established. They received nearly three times what was expected in the target benchmarks.

BARBARA EDELMAN:

We’re still entitled at this point for no one to have pre-judged anything that my clients have done. We don’t know yet.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] The lawsuit is likely to drag on for years. But the defendants insist the bulk of Kentucky’s pension troubles are due to underfunding and two market crashes.

BARBARA EDELMAN:

Give us a chance to defend our reputation. Just because a complaint shreds us, it doesn’t mean it’s true.

MARTIN SMITH:

People in industry and on Wall Street think that what you're looking to do is to wear them down, get them to a settlement and take the money. How do you respond to that?

MICHELLE LERACH:

I was thinking about something that came up in the last hearing when their lawyers, you know, sort of accused us of grabbing things from discovery and sending them to the media somehow, you know. Look, if they're proud of what they do and their business model and how they do it, well, then stand up and tell the world about it.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Every month, Kentucky Retirement Systems makes over 100,000 pension payments, with the average retiree receiving around $1,500. The total outflow is nearly $2 billion a year. But by 2013, the KRS board and Kentucky legislators worried that in the future they would not have enough money to meet their obligations.

SEN. MORGAN MCGARVEY, D-Ky. state senator:

In 2013, pensions had moved to the forefront. I think people started to realize we let this debt get out of control.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Lawmakers decided it was time to make some drastic changes.

SEN. MORGAN MCGARVEY:

We changed the system, so that you no longer get a defined-benefit plan if you're a state employee and you got this hybrid cash-balance plan.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Basically, a 401(k)-type plan.

SEN. MORGAN MCGARVEY:

Basically, a 401(k)-type plan. Better than a 401(k), but not as good as a defined-benefit plan.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] The first to be affected were police, firefighters and thousands of other public servants. Public school teachers were spared. Existing workers would keep their defined-benefit pension, but all new hires would be moved to a 401(k)-style plan.

POLICE OFFICER:

Evening. The reason why I stopped you tonight, you’re swerving.

TOM LOFTUS, The Courier-Journal:

The move into a 401(k)-style plans, this was widely seen as a compromise but it’s a big difference. And it’s a lot more uncertain with a 401(k) plan.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Tom Loftus is a local reporter who covers pensions.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] And how did it go down with the policemen and the firemen?

TOM LOFTUS:

I don't think it went down well with anybody.

MATT BEVIN, Candidate for Kentucky governor:

There is no way that we can continue because of demographics to offer the same plan to people who are not currently state employees.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] One year later, after reforms went into effect, the pension crisis resurfaced as an issue in the gubernatorial race, this time for state teachers and school workers.

MATT BEVIN:

The most important thing to do is stop digging.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] The long-shot candidate was Matt Bevin, a former hedge fund manager and Tea Party favorite.

MATT BEVIN:

We have a legal and a moral obligation to make the payments to our retirees and to those who…

BETTY PENDERGRASS, KRS board trustee:

His campaign promise was if the pension system is bankrupt, the inviolable contract is moot because if you don't have those dollars to pay those benefits then, OK, you don't pay those benefits.

MATT BEVIN:

The reality is if the money’s not there, then we have to think about how do we tighten our budget.

CHRIS TOBE, Author, “Kentucky Fried Pensions”:

His big issue is to shrink government in Kentucky, to make it smaller. He believes in private sector. He does not believe in government.

MATT BEVIN:

You all represent those who from east to west and from north to south…

CHRIS TOBE:

His endgame is to shrink the pensions.

MATT BEVIN:

…are why we indeed will be the next governor and lieutenant governor of this commonwealth of Kentucky.

GOV. MATT BEVIN. R-Ky.:

We had at that time, and continue to have, the worst-funded pension system in the United States.

MATT BEVIN:

We need a fresh start. We truly do. We need a fresh start.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

This tells us that we as a state are in dire risk of becoming financially insolvent, and that if we are unable to meet the pension obligations that we have to people this comes at the expense of everything else that we care about, everything else that we would fund.

Our state workers who have been promised a pension should be given that pension.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Once in office, Bevin decided to stop shorting the pension system and to make what are called actuarially required contributions or annual ARC payments.

GOV. MATT BEVIN, State of the State Address:

We have an $82 billion pension problem. There are going to be hard decisions made by this body, by the house and the senate.

JOHN CHEVES:

Governor Bevin is doing what no governor has done for at least 15, 16 years, which is fully fund the ARC again. And that's no small achievement and it really is starving much of the rest of the state budget.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

And we had better clean it up.

JOHN CHEVES, Lexington Herald-Leader:

That isn't what's controversial. What's controversial is he's saying we can't really afford to keep pensions going. So teachers from this point forward, teachers won't get pensions in Kentucky anymore.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

We have exhaustively gone through everything we can to ensure that we do in fact deliver on the promise.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Bevin concluded that the teachers’ pension system was unsustainable.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

“Keeping the Promise” will save Kentucky’s pension systems.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Under a proposal called “Keeping the Promise,” all newly-hired teachers would be moved to a 401(k).

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

And so on a going-forward basis, this new law is going to mandate the entire cost of our obligations. We break it into tranches.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Existing teachers would also contribute a greater percentage of their salary to shore up the old system.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] You were eradicating the pension for new teachers.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

Correct. I mean, this is… In other words, for new people who are not currently employed by the state, they would not be given a defined-benefit plan because it is not possible to promise that to them with any confidence that we can deliver it. We can't.

SEN. ROBERT STIVERS, R-Ky. senate president:

I think this is a very morally sound plan.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] State Senator Robert Stivers endorsed the plan.

SEN. ROBERT STIVERS:

It’s something that the people of Kentucky will understand and accept as the direction we need to go in future years.

PROTESTERS:

Keep your hands off our pensions! Keep your hands off our pensions!

NEWS REPORT:

A passionate crowd of state workers, educators and retirees took to the steps of the state capitol with one message: They want their pensions.

PROTESTERS:

A pension is a promise! A pension is a promise! A pension is a promise!

NEWS REPORT:

The proposed bill calls for new employees to move to a 401(k)-style plan and current employees kick in 3 percent of their salaries to shore up retiree health care funds.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

You’re going to be looking at specific countries and we’re going to look at each one.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Christina Frederick-Trosper, the teacher from Knox County, was alarmed. Her salary was already a challenge to live on. Kentucky’s teachers have seen their wages, adjusted for inflation, increase by less than half a percentage point in the last two decades.

Now Trosper feared that lawmakers would come after her pension.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

In about August, September, I really started paying attention to what was happening. And just everything just kind of snowballed for me. Like all of it just kind of came together.

You dug the hole. I didn’t dig the hole. My parents, who are 90 years old, did not dig the hole.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] One day Trosper attended a town meeting and confronted Senator Stivers about his plan.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

You all made a conscious decision to not fund your obligation. And I don’t care when you got elected or whatever. But you’ve been there during the years that it has not been funded properly. I want to know how are you going to raise the revenue to fund it properly, because I promise you your days in the senate will be no longer. They will be no longer if you do not do something. That is all I care about.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] It seemed like something snapped in you.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

Yeah, it did and I told everybody I had an out-of-body experience.

I can go through a 300-page bill.

I mean, I'm a loud person and I'm not the type of person who, you know, sits back a lot of times. But I shocked myself.

I want what you told me I was going to get. My insurance is crap. My pay is crap. But I love what I do and I was promised this pension. And what you’re proposing is going to kill us. You will kill us. You will kill public education and that is not a hyperbole.

SEN. ROBERT STIVERS:

I understand that lady perfectly. She is having certain fear of an unknown system where she's very comfortable with a known system.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] And she's worried there will be less incentive for teachers to sign up knowing that they won't have a defined-benefit pension plan, and that she has young children and the quality of the teachers for them will be less.

SEN. ROBERT STIVERS:

Well, that, that’s an opinion. There are many teachers that are teaching in the parochial systems that don't have those types of systems and they have very good outcomes and results. Universities? I don't think many teachers have defined-benefit pensions in universities. Now, they're paid differently, and more.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] And more. And that's a difference.

PROTESTERS:

In West Virginia, we’re standing beside you!

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Teachers in Kentucky were not alone. In February 2018, teachers in West Virginia rallied to protest low pay and benefits.

PROTESTERS:

Five percent! Now!

NEWS REPORT:

36,000 teachers walked out of class today.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] West Virginia teachers in turn sparked similar demonstrations in Oklahoma and Arizona.

PROTESTERS:

This is what democracy looks like!

NEWS REPORT:

It’s the latest in a wave of protests sweeping across the country, led by teachers who say the future of public education is at stake.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

I think West Virginia inspired us because it happened next door in a mountain state that struggles with the same types of things that we do. And that they were able to achieve their goals, I think really ignited us.

PROTESTERS:

Five funding first! Five funding first! Five funding first! We vote! Five funding first!

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Bevin’s controversial “Keeping the Promise” reforms were crafted into Senate Bill 1.

SEN. JOE BOWEN, R-Ky. state senator:

Senate Bill 1 shall pass.

PROTESTERS:

No! No!

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Leading the charge was Senator Joe Bowen, who five years earlier had pushed through that pension bill affecting cops and firefighters.

PROTESTERS:

Vote them out! Vote them out! Vote them out! Vote them out!

SEN. JOE BOWEN:

Ladies and gentlemen, please! I’m going to ask you to please…

MARTIN SMITH:

They'd like to have your hide.

SEN. JOE BOWEN:

Some.

MARTIN SMITH:

Well, the teachers were out there chanting.

SEN. JOE BOWEN:

Yeah. Look, at the end of the day we're trying to save the system for them. That’s, that's the irony of all of this, in my mind anyway, is that here we are trying to save the systems and we're getting all this pushback.

PROTESTERS:

Vote them out! Vote them out! Vote them out!

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Angry and fearful teachers became a regular presence in the state capitol.

GOV. MATT BEVIN, R-Ky.:

I’m the only governor in the lifetime of any of these teachers that has fully funded the plan and yet they seemingly hate what we’re doing and they say…

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] On a local radio show, Governor Bevin shot back.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

I mean reality is, this is a group of people that are throwing a temper tantrum, and I’m surprised that this…

JOHN CHEVES, Lexington Herald-Leader:

Bevin has made a number of controversial statements about teachers over the last few months. Most politicians do not want to be seen as critical of teachers. I mean Matt Bevin, obviously, has decided he’s comfortable crossing that line.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

I’m just flabbergasted at how remarkably uninformed folks are. There’s an old saying that you can’t win an argument with an ignorant person. And so if a person is uninformed about a topic, they’re not even able to make their own case for what they believe. We have people that are…

These are educated people with, with the ability to listen and to understand. So if they truly still believe that this is bad for them, it is due to being misinformed. And they’re like, “How dare you say we don’t understand?”

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Well, the choice of language is such that you…

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

Agreed.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] …you're seen as arrogant, dismissive, talking down to teachers, firemen, policemen.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

If people want to be offended, they can be offended by anything. You can parse things, take things out of context, even take them in context.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] Do you think you've been appropriately careful in your choice…

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

Yes.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] …of language and really served this debate…

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

I do. and I think if people really…

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] …in a constructive way?

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

Yes.

MARTIN SMITH:

You do?

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

Whether… Do, does everybody agree with that? No.

MARTIN SMITH:

No regrets?

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

No. I… Here's the thing. I'm trying to save a system that needs to be saved.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] By March 2018, the pension bill had stalled and time was running out. So with just a few days left in the legislative session, state Republicans tried a last-minute maneuver.

REP. JOHN CARNEY, R-Ky. state representative:

If we do not take action on this pension bill, there will be massive layoffs across the commonwealth of Kentucky. None of us, regardless of party, want that to happen. We do not need our school districts…

SEN. MORGAN MCGARVEY, D-Ky. state senator:

They were called into a crowded capitol committee room, handed a bill, and told they were going to vote on it.

REP. JOHN CARNEY:

This is a good compromise plan.

SEN. MORGAN MCGARVEY:

But it turns out that they were handed a sewage bill, that they were swapping out anything that had to do with sewers and putting in languages that changed the pension system in Kentucky forever going forward.

REP. DERRICK GRAHAM, D-Ky. state representative:

Well, first of all, this is very unfair to vote on a bill that I didn’t even check the number of pages that are on this bill, and then ask us to make this, this decision today, and then limit discussion and we…

JOHN CHEVES:

No one had a chance to read it outside of the Republican members of the senate. I mean, the Democrats hadn't had a chance to read it, the teachers’ association, the public, the press. Nobody else knew what was in there and this thing’s about to become law.

REP. TOM BURCH, D-Ky. state representative:

I mean this, this is a, this is a committee meeting, sir.

REP. JERRY MILLER, R-Committee chair:

Yes, sir, it is.

REP. TOM BURCH:

And we’re allowed to ask questions or, or anything pertaining to this bill, which none of us has seen except a couple of you guys. I’ve never seen such garbage thrown out here in my years in service. We’ve had three or four…

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] There was a lot of anger in the room.

REP. JERRY MILLER:

Extreme anger. It was an unpleasant task I was asked to do. No one wants to make other people unhappy.

And, and I will say, I voted on plenty of bills I didn’t get to read, unfortunately. I had no choice.

But you have to consider all of the factors. We couldn’t pass a budget if we didn’t have a pension bill. And that is why I agreed. We’ve got to get this bill back to the floor so we can have a debate, full debate on it, knowing that the optics were terrible.

REP. JIM WAYNE, D-Ky. state representative:

I’m concerned, first of all, that what, what we’re doing is illegal. I’m, I’m hoping that we can have a representative of the teacher organization to testify here today on this bill. Would that be permitted, Mr. Chairman?

REP JERRY MILLER:

That’s not on the, in the order, no.

REP. JIM WAYNE:

Is there, could you explain why we, we’re not having a representative of the teachers to testify on this bill, since they are the main people who are going to be affected by it?

REP JERRY MILLER:

We have heard loud and clear how the teachers feel about SB1 and this plan has made changes responsive to those questions. Does anyone have a question on the bill?

REP. JIM WAYNE:

Well, that’s why I’m, I’m asking these questions about the bill.

REP. JERRY MILLER:

Representative Richards.

REP. JIM WAYNE:

Can, can I finish my, my, my time, Mr. Chairman?

REP. JERRY MILLER:

I’ve called on Representative Richards. Representative Richards.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] It became clear to everyone in the room that the Republican majority was not interested in hearing the Democrats’ objections to the bill.

REP. JERRY MILLER:

Seeing no other questions, Madame Secretary, please call the roll.

COMMITTEE MEMBERS:

Mr. Chairman! Mr. Chairman!

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

It was absolutely just gut-wrenching to watch them vote.

REP. JERRY MILLER:

You’re out of order, sir.

REP. ROCKY ADKINS, D-Ky. state representative:

You’re out of order, too. By the statute, you’re out of order.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

It was, “Well, this is what we're going to do and this is how we're going to do it. And we're going to over-vote you because we have a supermajority.”

REP. JERRY MILLER:

All in favor of the title amendment, signify by saying “ay”?

COMMITTEE MEMBERS:

Ay.

REP. JERRY MILLER:

All opposed?

COMMITTEE MEMBERS:

No!

REP. JERRY MILLER:

This committee is adjourned.

REP. TOM BURCH:

How can you guys shave in the morning without cutting your throat?

SEN. MORGAN MCGARVEY:

Everyone's upset. Tensions are high and that's when we had 5,000 teachers show up in Frankfort.

NEWS REPORT:

Many teachers and state employees are upset about being caught off guard and not having a chance to see the bill before it passed.

JOHN CHEVES:

In 20 years at the state capitol, I've never seen protests like that. The teachers kept coming and coming. They were there every day.

CHRIS TOBE:

A pension is a promise!

PROTESTERS:

A pension is a promise!

CHRIS TOBE:

A pension is a promise!

PROTESTERS:

A pension is a promise! [cheering]

ANDY BESHEAR, D-Ky. attorney general:

Decades ago, that General Assembly made you a promise.

PROTESTER:

Yup!

ANDY BESHEAR:

They said that if you dedicate your life to public service, that while we wouldn’t pay you enough, we would guarantee you a solid retirement.

PROTESTERS:

Yeah!

ANDY BESHEAR:

But they broke their promise.

PROTESTERS:

Yeah!

ANDY BESHEAR:

And they broke the law!

PROTESTERS:

Yes, they did! Put them in jail!

ANDY BESHEAR:

Because the law doesn’t allow you to change a sewage bill into a pension bill and pass it on the same day. That’s government at its worst!

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

That just felt like another slap in the face. To take our pension bill and put it onto a sewer bill, we thought, "Oh, that's symbolic.”

SINGER AND PROTESTERS:

We deserve better than that. In our schools. We deserve better than that. In our country. We deserve better than that. In Kentucky. We deserve better than that!

RANDY WIECK, American history teacher:

It was perfect. I mean, they couldn't have chosen a, a better metaphor. Here’s your, here’s your, here’s your sewage.

RANDY WIECK:

Get the New York money managers out of my pension! I say sue them! Sue them blue! Sue them blue! Sue them blue! Sue them blue!

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Many, like Randy Wieck, blame Wall Street for creating the mess.

PROTESTERS:

Vote them out! Vote them out! Vote them out!

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Others blame the governors, then lawmakers who neglected the pension fund over decades.

REP. ROCKY ADKINS:

I want to submit to you that this budget does not take us to that next level.

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] Inside the capitol, with teachers filling the gallery, lawmakers debated how to cut the budget to shore up the pension fund. Many of the cuts proposed were to public education.

REP. ROCKY ADKINS:

We can do better. We must do better. If we want to have a world-class education system that all of us want to have, I can submit to you this budget does not do it.

PROTESTERS:

Vote them out! Vote them out! Vote them out!

RANDY WEICK:

I think teachers are beginning to realize that the whole system is under assault. What is going to happen to that generation of children? Will they be able to learn if they come into school because the social safety net, that’s very thin as it is, has been shredded?

REP. JIM WAYNE:

Ladies and gentlemen, the teachers know that textbooks and learning materials in this budget are sliced by $16.7 million. No new textbooks with that.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

All of those that are up for re-election right now that were not friends of public education, we're hoping that they won't be there.

REP. JERRY MILLER:

It is sad that we are where we are, but unfortunately we had to take action.

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

Everybody's going to be shocked to see how many of us come out in force to put in pro-public education candidates.

PROTESTERS:

The power is in the vote! The power is in the vote! The power is in the vote! [cheering]

MARTIN SMITH:

[voice-over] For now, Kentucky’s attorney general has successfully blocked Bevin’s sewer bill in court. But teachers are afraid of what the future holds. The pensions of some other Kentucky state workers are facing insolvency in around three years. Teachers worry that when the time comes for them to retire, the state won’t have the money to pay their pensions.

PROTESTERS:

We will remember in November! We will remember in November!

DAVID SIROTA, Author, “Report: The Plot Against Pensions”:

State lawmakers don't want to raise taxes. Voters don't want to accept tax increases. Retirees, I think rightfully, don't want to accept cuts to benefits that they were promised.

So in Kentucky, the bill’s coming due now. We are going to see situations where pension funds literally do not have the money to pay out benefits to people who have been promised those benefits.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

And yet I’m being fought, in some instances, by the very people that we’re trying to save. It’s like saving a drowning victim. It’s like somebody, they’re fighting you, fighting you, pulling you under. You just need to knock them out and drag them to shore.

RADIO HOST:

Yeah.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

It’s for their own good and, and, and we have to save the system.

RADIO HOST:

Governor Matt Bevin, couldn’t put it any more succinctly than that. I appreciate the wake-up call.

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

I won’t be the governor when this thing falls apart.

RADIO HOST:

It’s tough medicine. But to save the system…

GOV. MATT BEVIN:

The next governor, regardless of who they are or what ideology they represent, it won’t matter what lie they give. Reality will come crashing home.

JOHN CHEVES:

The endgame is pretty clear. Pensions are on their way out. So what we're going to have within the next generation or two is Americans who are going to have terribly insecure retirements. They're going to have to live on whatever they've managed to squirrel away through their own savings. Teachers, the one benefit you've got for sure was a pension to retire on with some security and dignity at the end of your career. But in Kentucky after this summer, that might be gone.

BASEBALL COACH:

Parents, quick. We’ve got pictures at five o’clock, right here.

MARTIN SMITH:

[on camera] What happens if you have no pension?

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

I don't want to think about that. I don't know. I don't, I don't know.

TEACHER:

That’s excellent! What is the difference between the first 16 problems?

CHRISTINA FREDERICK-TROSPER:

Many of us teachers are working paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet.

That’s like a pivotal point. Right? Like, it’s like a make or a break it time.

I have no savings. So my pension is everything. Without that, I won't survive.

Take your papers with you. You have a great day. I’ll see your beautiful faces tomorrow. That’s all right.

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