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Drug arrest costs ex-prison official retirement benefits

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An administrative law judge Tuesday backed a decision to strip retirement benefits from a former major at Florida State Prison who was arrested on charges that he bought Oxycodone from a correctional officer.

Charles G. Combs oversaw the work camp at the prison when he was arrested last year as part of an investigation by the Bradford County Sheriff's Office that resulted in the arrests of 10 Department of Corrections employees, according to Tuesday's ruling by Administrative Law Judge G.W. Chisenhall.

Combs was accused of buying Oxycodone from correctional officer Dylan Hilliard for his own use and allowing two employees to leave the prison during their shifts to buy drugs.

Chisenhall wrote that Combs also was accused of making some drug purchases in his state-issued housing on the prison grounds.

Combs spent nearly 56 days in jail before reaching an agreement with prosecutors to reduce the charges in exchange for his cooperation in the investigation.

Combs pleaded no contest to two charges with the adjudication withheld, which typically allows defendants to avoid having convictions if they meet conditions.

After the plea, the State Board of Administration, which runs the Florida Retirement System, notified Combs that he had forfeited his retirement benefits because of the case.

Combs was enrolled in what is known as the system's 401(k)-style "investment" plan.

Combs argued that he should not lose the benefits because the charges had nothing to do with his job and there was no "breach of the public trust," Chisenhall wrote.

But the judge agreed with the State Board of Administration and said Combs was only entitled to the return of his contributions to the plan.

"Mr. Combs defrauded the public from receiving the faithful performance of his duties as a correctional officer," Chisenhall wrote. "The public had a right to expect that one of its employees would not purchase drugs from someone he supervised. The public also had a right to expect that Mr. Combs would not use his authority at Florida State Prison to facilitate Mr. Hilliard's illegal drug sales to other DOC employees. In addition, the public had a right to expect that Mr. Combs would not engage in illegal transactions on the grounds of Florida State Prison."

Chisenhall's ruling, which is a recommended order, now goes back to the State Board of Administration for final action.