Convicted ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich will now have to clear a few more hurdles before he would even have a slight chance of collecting a $65,000-a-year state pension.
The General Assembly Retirement System board added the extra layer of scrutiny Wednesday with Blagojevich on the verge of turning 55 in December. That’s when he’s eligible to apply for a state pension.
The move came the same day the Illinois Supreme Court suspended Blagojevich from the practice of law “effective immediately and until further order” by the court. Blagojevich had not been known to even be practicing law, however, and losing his license upon conviction had long been expected.
Typically, a former lawmaker or statewide official would apply for a pension, and the checks start soon thereafter. The board would then review the pensions at a follow-up meeting and give final approval.
But on Wednesday, lawmakers on the pension board decided that any former lawmaker or statewide official convicted of a felony should get more scrutiny before the pension system begins cutting them checks. If Blagojevich applies for a pension, for example, the application would be frozen and the board would hold special meetings to consider it.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, raised the Blagojevich issue because the impeached former governor will turn 55 before the panel had planned to meet next spring.
The issue also is complicated because Blagojevich has not been sentenced yet. The sentencing has been indefinitely postponed, and pension board lawmakers did not want to take a chance that Blagojevich would start cashing pension checks in the meantime.
Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said he wanted a legal opinion to determine whether the panel could move forward with turning down any attempt by Blagojevich to get a pension before he is sentenced. Brady and other lawmakers made the point that they did not want Blagojevich to collect any pension checks because it would be difficult, if not impossible, to recover the money once it is out the door.
The move is more than academic. It’s based in part on Illinois’ experience with convicted former Gov. George Ryan, who collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension before he went to prison. Ryan was making a pension worth nearly $200,000 a year when it was revoked.
Ryan left office and began collecting a pension immediately. Later, Ryan was indicted, convicted, and after a lengthy delay, sentenced. During that time, he collected $635,000 from Illinois taxpayers.
Without running into trouble with the law, Blagojevich would be eligible to get a state pension of about $65,000 a year. If he loses that pension, he still would be eligible for a refund of about $128,000 in personal contributions he made to the state’s retirement fund for his four years as a lawmaker and six years as governor.
Blagojevich already is likely to collect a $15,000-a year pension from the federal government for his six years as a congressman.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun