Pompano Beach resident Joe Boudreau worked on Florida Power & Light power lines for 25 years -- the last 10 as a lead lineman -- so he knew he would be able to live comfortably on his pension.

But even he was surprised when he retired in 2007 and received $264,000 -- about $60,000 more than he was owed -- from FPL as part of his pension plan. When he brought the issue to the attention of FPL's pension fund managers, he said he was told not to worry about returning the money.

Boudreau said it made him wonder "how lax" the company is with other expenses -- particularly at a time when the utility is proposing a record rate increase.

Questions about FPL employee compensation and salaries surfaced during hearings on the utility's request for a base rate hike, which the Public Service Commission will vote on Jan. 13.

FPL provided the commission with detailed salary information but is fighting the regulators' requirement that the utility make public detailed salary information for about 460 employees earning more than $165,000 a year in salary, overtime and other benefits. Both sides will present their arguments on Jan. 27 at the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

Boudreau's saga began in October 2007 when he received his pension. His financial advisor told him to alert the company to avoid problems later.

"I called the pension fund and said, 'You folks made a big mistake,' " said Boudreau, sharing the estimate the company had given him before. "They said, 'Keep in mind those were just estimates.' I says, 'Well, I don't want to be harassed later because I owe you money.' "

Boudreau said the official he spoke to at the FPL Benefits Service Center run by Fidelity Investments, which handles FPL's pension fund, assured him there was no problem with him keeping the money. "You can deposit that money in your annuity without any fears because this is correct," he said he was told.

An FPL Group representative wrote Boudreau in June to say he and other employeees were awarded a 1 percent interest-based credit for three years on their pension plans. "However, during the process of recalculating your benefit, it was discovered that an error was made in the payment of your pension," the representative wrote, saying Boudreau owed nearly $54,000.

Boudreau refused to pay. And days after the Sun Sentinel called Fidelity to inquire about Boudreau's situation, he received a settlement offer in the mail from the company saying that he had indeed been over compensated. The amount he owed, he was told, would be lowered to $35,000. But he didn't sign the proposed agreement, which said he would not be able to talk to anyone, including the media, about what had happened."I'm not going to sign my life away to these people," Boudreau said.

After the Sun Sentinel called FPL and Fidelity officials last month for comment on this story, a Fidelity representative called Boudreau to tell him that he doesn't owe the company. FPL and Fidelity representatives declined to comment.

Boudreau said the Fidelity representative said the offer didn't have anything to do with "recent events" but happened because the company found a recording of his call in 2007 when he tried reporting the overpayment.

"However, I believe I would still be hounded by them [for the money] if it wasn't for the Sun Sentinel. I have a funny feeling they don't want any bad publicity right now," he said, adding that he's delighted about the company's decision.

When Boudreau retired, more than half of his annual $135,000 salary was due to overtime.

Edward Siedle, president of Benchmark Financial Services in Ocean Ridge, Fla., said errors in retirement plans are common.

"Errors of all stripes are extremely common -- so much so that in the case of 401ks, most companies put on their statements: 'It is your responsibility to verify the accuracy of this statement,'" said Siedle, a former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney who investigates pension fund fraud and mismanagement.

Julie Patel can be reached at jpatel@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4667.