Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who resigned amid an ongoing federal investigation, just collected his first pension check — the initial payment in what could become one of the richest retirement payouts to any Illinois legislator.
Disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis has gotten nearly $170,000 in retirement pay since he quit the Chicago City Council two years ago after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed he’d been an FBI mole, secretly recording conversations with now-indicted Ald. Edward M. Burke and others at City Hall as part of a widespread investigation into government corruption.
They and others who are under federal scrutiny — caught up in ongoing federal grand jury investigations involving government officials in the city and suburbs — are facing jeopardy that goes beyond what any of them might face from the courts. If the investigations lead to criminal charges and convictions, that also could jeopardize the lucrative pensions they expected to collect for the rest of their lives.
Many of the others have resigned from office and put in for their pensions, knowing those checks will be cut off if they are convicted of felonies related to their official duties.
If that were to happen, they’d get a refund of the money that had been taken out of their paychecks over the years as their contributions toward their pensions. But that would be the case only if the amount they collect in retirement pay hasn’t already exceeded their own contributions — something that usually takes a couple of years.
Here’s a look, based on records from government retirement funds, at the pension status of a dozen retired and current officials, all Democrats, who have been caught up in the federal investigations involving City Hall, Cook County and the state of Illinois:
Madigan, 78, lost the speaker’s post in a vote in January of his Democratic colleagues in the House, then resigned from the House seat he held for 50 years and also stepped aside as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.
He got his first pension check — for $7,093 — on March 24.
Madigan’s annual pension is $85,117. It will increase 75% in July 2022, to $148,955. That huge increase is the result of two factors — an automatic 3% cost-of-living increase and 24 other increases of 3% each, one for each year he served once he reached his 55th birthday and 20 years of service.
During his time as speaker, Madigan contributed $352,345 to the General Assembly Retirement Fund. He stands to recoup all of that in about three years.
Madigan hasn’t been charged with any crime. But his close friend and ally, former state Rep. Michael McClain, has been charged in the conspiracy case along with ComEd’s former chief executive officer Anne Pramaggiore and the utility’s former lobbyist John Hooker. And the federal indictment says ComEd curried favor with Madigan by hiring his associates and allies, including McClain and others.
Madigan and his attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.
- Solis was chairman of the powerful Chicago City Council zoning committee while he was secretly recording thousands of conversations at City Hall for nearly two years — including recordings that led to Burke’s indictment in May 2019.
Solis hasn’t been charged with any crime, though he has a deferred-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation.
According to a court affidavit, prosecutors have said Solis received sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and a steady stream of campaign contributions in exchange for shepherding official actions through the City Council, the Sun-Times has reported.
Federal authorities also are investigating Solis’ role involving a Chinatown developer who met with Madigan to discuss development of a state-owned parking lot and having the developer hire Madigan’s law firm.
Solis, 66, retired from the City Council in June 2019.
He’s getting a yearly city pension of $100,573.
He contributed $297,027 toward his retirement pay and has collected a total of $169,706 in pension checks.
It’s unclear whether his deferred-prosecution deal would prohibit the city from cutting off his pension at some point in the future.
A lawyer representing Solis declined to comment.
- Edward Acevedo, a retired state representative and Chicago police officer, and two of his sons have been charged with cheating on their federal tax returns regarding income from their lobbying on behalf of Commonwealth Edison, the utility that’s at the heart of the Madigan investigation.
Acevedo, 57, is getting two government pensions. He gets $58,718 a year from the General Assembly Retirement System and, thanks to a law that he helped change, another $4,572 from the Chicago police pension plan.
He contributed a total of $202,352 to those pension plans. So far, he has collected $183,099.
His state pension checks amount to about 19% less than they otherwise would be because, under the terms of his divorce, that money — which comes to $14,299 a year — goes to his ex-wife.
Acevedo, whose Chicago condominium is in foreclosure, and his lawyer didn’t return calls.
While serving in the Illinois House, Arroyo also ran a lobbying business. One client operated sweepstakes machines — an unregulated version of video-gambling machines that can be found at some businesses in Chicago and other communities that ban video gambling.
Arroyo sought Link’s help to pass a law so the Illinois Gaming Board could regulate sweepstakes machines.
Arroyo, 66, of Chicago, gets two pensions totaling more than $61,000 a year from his 25 years as a city employee. He also gets another $54,094 a year as a result of his 15 years in the Illinois House.
He’s collected about half of the $128,259 he contributed toward his state pension, which could be in jeopardy if he’s convicted.
Arroyo’s attorney declined to comment.
James T. Weiss, an Arroyo client who is a son-in-law of former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, also has been charged in the same case, accused of paying $10,000 in bribes to pass a law legalizing sweepstakes gambling. The indictment doesn’t identify the person Weiss is accused of bribing.
Many of the owners of the properties under scrutiny were clients of property tax law firms run by Madigan, Burke or others.
Berrios, 69, of Chicago, hasn’t been charged with any crime.
Berrios, who could not be reached for comment, gets a yearly pension of $106,090 from the Cook County pension fund.
He contributed $319,035 toward his retirement pay. Since leaving office in December 2018, he has collected $229,014 in payouts.
- State Sen. Thomas E. Cullerton, who’s charged with embezzlement, stands accused of collecting more than $270,000 in salary and benefits while working as an organizer for Teamsters Joint Council 25 at the same time he was in the Senate.
His indictment came in August 2019, a few days after former longtime Chicago Teamsters boss John T. Coli Sr., who’s cooperating with federal authorities, pleaded guilty to extorting Alexander S. Pissios, the president of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.
Cullerton, 51, of Villa Park, had opted out of the state retirement system. So he has no pension at stake if he’s convicted.
Helm, now awaiting trial, also was implicated by City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson but has not been charged in what Ferguson described in a secret report to city officials as a bribery scheme involving Sloan Valve Company, a Franklin Park business that wanted to provide plumbing fixtures at Chicago’s airports.
Helm has resigned and has been placed on City Hall’s do-not-hire list.
A longtime political operative with ties to former Ald. Patrick O’Connor, Helm collects pensions from the city, Cook County and the state of Illinois that pay him a combined $64,377 a year.
Altogether, he contributed $159,600 to those pension plans, which, since he started taking his pensions in September 2019, have paid him a combined total of $92,929.
Helm couldn’t be reached.
- Link, the former longtime senator and chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party who pushed for expansion of casino gambling, pleaded guilty last September to tax fraud, admitting he didn’t report more than $90,000 in income on his 2016 tax return.
The Sun-Times has reported Link wore a wire to help prosecutors, though Link has denied that he was a mole.
Link, 74, has contributed $204,368 to the state retirement fund.
He hasn’t received any pension payments while his pension status is under review.
State pension officials have asked Attorney General Kwame Raoul to decide whether the tax conviction was related to Link’s legislative duties. If so, that would disqualify him from receiving a taxpayer-funded pension. If that happens, his contributions toward his pension would be refunded to him.
Neither Link nor his lawyer could be reached.
- Frank Olivo, a former alderman who represented Madigan’s 13th Ward in the Chicago City Council, also has been implicated but not charged in the ComEd case. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records involving Olivo, who retired from the City Council in 2011 and then began lobbying city officials on behalf of the utility.
Olivo’s city pension is $115,400 a year.
After contributing $266,405 to the retirement fund, he has gotten a total of $976,717 in pension checks since retiring in May 2011.
Olivo couldn’t be reached.
Sandoval, who had chaired the Senate Transportation Committee, acknowledged taking more than $250,000 “in bribes as part of criminal activity that involved more than five participants.”
Sandoval also was named in subpoenas in investigations involving Madigan and Jeffrey Tobolski, who formerly was mayor of McCook and a Cook County Board member.
Sandoval, 56, resigned from the state Senate in January 2020, weeks before pleading guilty.
He had contributed $143,241 to the state retirement system but never took a pension.
State law allows pensions to be revoked only after a public official has been sentenced. Sandoval died before being sentenced. So his widow is now collecting a monthly survivor’s pension benefit of $3,780.
- Tobolski, the former Cook County commissioner and ex-mayor of McCook, pleaded guilty last September, admitting he extorted money from a restaurant operating on village property and failing to report all of that money on his tax returns.
Tobolski, 56, contributed $67,300 to the county retirement plan. He so far isn’t collecting a pension.
He and his attorney couldn’t be reached.
- Michael Zalewski, a former Chicago alderman and city employee, runs a lobbying business whose clients have included ComEd.
FBI agents raided his home nearly two years ago, and he has been named in a subpoena served on Madigan but hasn’t been charged.
Zalewski landed a $5,000 monthly consulting job with ComEd with assistance from Madigan’s friend McClain.
Zalewski’s son Michael Zalewski is a member of the Illinois House and married to Carrie Zalewski, an attorney Pritzker appointed to head the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates ComEd.
Zalewski retired from the city in June 2018.
He’s getting a yearly city pension of $100,593. The Chicago Laborers’ and Retirement Board Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund would not say how much he contributed to his pension.
He referred questions to his attorney, who didn’t respond.