--I hate to disagree with this. Especially because it involves a corrupt politician.The law is clear and has been for a long time. You don't lose your pension until you are convicted of a crime that was committed while you were in the position you held.
I am not clear if the pension board can attempt to recover payments made.
The real problem is the slowness of the justice system that allows these people to collect their pensions for years until they are convicted.--
Story at Chicago Tribune
Corrupt legislator pleaded guilty, but the system makes sure that won't affect her state pension
By Ray Long, Chicago Tribune reporter
6:41 PM CDT, September 2, 2013
— Even as former state Rep. Connie Howard abruptly submitted her resignation letter in July 2012, she was negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors who had taken a hard look at state grants she'd doled out and scholarship money she'd raised to help students.
As the talks about pleading guilty continued and the months went by, Howard was able to legally pocket $57,000 from her legislative pension. And she can continue picking up another $4,750 a month from the nation's worst-funded state retirement system until a federal judge sentences her on Nov. 21.
The Howard case illustrates a couple of things about state government and political corruption: It's beneficial for a veteran lawmaker to retire before admitting to wrongdoing because the pension spigot turns on and doesn't turn off until sentencing is official. And that provides a financial incentive to allow plea bargain discussions and the rest of the judicial process to play out as long as possible.
In some states, such matters may be academic. In Illinois, however, the House has two current members facing federal felony trials, and the previous two governors — Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich — went to prison for corruption.
While Ryan and Blagojevich lost their state pensions, it's possible Howard won't lose hers. In Illinois, there generally needs to be a straight line between a crime and a legislator's duties before a pension is denied or taken away. The charge prosecutors brought against Howard centers on a private scholarship fund, which could provide enough separation from her job as a legislator to preserve her pension.
The situation gives Illinois a fresh reason to delve deeper into state pension laws to find and eliminate all legal loopholes that allow corrupt politicians to cash in, said Susan Garrett, who chairs the board of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a watchdog group.
"We should have one general law that applies across the board that, when there is public corruption and somebody is found guilty or pleads guilty, the pension should be automatically removed," said Garrett, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Lake Forest who served 14 years in the General Assembly.
Messages left for Howard and her attorney were not returned. She had no comment about her case when she left a federal courtroom in Springfield in July.
A panel of state lawmakers is meeting behind closed doors looking for a compromise on how to repair the state's broken public worker pension system that's $100 billion in debt. That shortfall is overshadowing efforts to scale back pension sweeteners.
Consideration also should be given to blocking payments to lawmakers like Howard once they plead guilty to serious matters, said Republican Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville, a pension reform committee member.
"These are things that didn't cause the overall (financial) problem," said Senger, a congressional candidate next year. "But if we don't fix them, we're continuing to erode anything that gets corrected."
Loophole in Howard case
Howard, 70, served about 17 years in the General Assembly. The South Side lawmaker chaired the House Computer Technology Committee.
Along the way, she held golf outings to raise money for scholarships for students in computer sciences and technology. The scholarship fund bore her name. Trouble is, very little of the money she raised ended up helping students, according to authorities.
A Tribune report last year provided the first glimpse of how this chapter in Howard's political career was about to unfold. A federal subpoena asked the Illinois House clerk for recordings of her computer committee's hearings and other information, including about her scholarship fund.
Howard announced her retirement last summer in a letter to the House clerk, saying she would resign for "personal reasons" effective July 9, 2012. Her plea agreement more than a year later provided a hint as to why.
Howard agreed to plead guilty to one felony mail fraud count for a crime committed in summer 2007. An incident that old was beyond the five-year statute of limitations by the time she pleaded guilty July 24.
The timing outlined in court documents telegraphed a likelihood that plea negotiations had started. Otherwise, the charge may have been lodged sooner in order to fit within the five-year window.
Timothy Bass, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Howard, confirmed negotiations began in July 2012 prior to her resignation. Bass said he and Howard's attorneys agreed to extend the period in which she could be charged, a move that stalled the deadline on the statute of limitations.
Howard also is entangled — but not charged — in another federal court case, turning up in a court document under the moniker "Public Official A." Her former legislative aide Lloyd Kelly faces a mail fraud charge. He was executive director of the Let's Talk, Let's Test Foundation, a now-defunct AIDS awareness group co-founded by Howard, who was the chairwoman of its board.
The Illinois Department of Public Health gave the foundation $1.2 million in grants in 2007 to underwrite awareness programs, HIV testing sites in black communities and medical and social services for inmates and former inmates. But prosecutors contended much of the work was never done and that some of the money was fraudulently diverted, including for skyboxes and alcoholic beverages at a 2007 Chicago Football Classic that Kelly and Howard attended with associates.
As much as $20,000 allegedly was used to pay wages of foundation members who actually worked for Howard's legislative and campaign offices, including as a driver and personal assistant.
Howard co-sponsored legislation that identified AIDS/HIV issues in the African-American community and a separate measure that created the grants to fund programs. She left office making a base salary of $67,836 and a stipend of $10,327 for chairing a committee.
The question that eventually stands to go before the General Assembly Retirement System board is whether the specific charge Howard pleaded guilty to disqualifies her from getting a pension. The issue may rest on whether the private scholarship fund could be linked to her official public duties as a lawmaker.
Howard could get as much as six months in prison and six months of home confinement at her Nov. 21 sentencing. Pension officials review the case and wait for legal advice from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
The pension board followed Madigan's recommendations that neither Ryan nor Blagojevich get any state pension after they were sentenced, though Blagojevich will be eligible for a federal pension for his time as a U.S. representative.
Ryan, who served prison time and is now free, had lumped into the state pension system the credit he earned in public office dating back through the legislature and his time on the Kankakee County Board. He ended up losing it all despite an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled 6-1 against him.
Still, Ryan managed to collect $635,000 in pension payments in the three-plus years between his retirement and his conviction.
When the pension board took away his pension, Ryan also got a refund of about $235,000 — the amount of personal contributions he made during his more than 30 years in public office.
If Howard loses her pension, she would be eligible for a refund of personal contributions over the years of $129,643, according to the retirement system.