Kay says lawmakers will end pensions for convicted officials like Bathon

News-DemocratDecember 29, 2013 

State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said he's confident his bill to speed up the state's power to strip corrupt officials of their state-funded pensions will pass into law after the Illinois General Assembly reconvenes in late January.

Kay so far not heard anyone speak in opposition to the bill, which allows the state to terminate the state-funded pensions of public officials on the day those officials plead guilty to a crime connected to their public duties.

Under current law, public officials found guilty of corruption may continue to collect their state-funded pensions until the date of their sentencings -- which could be months after they enter guilty pleas.

"I have not heard any opposition at all," Kay said. "And I would be very surprised if anybody did (oppose it)."

Kay predicted his bill "will get a lot of traction. And if it doesn't, we're going to let the general public in the metro-east know that we don't have our heads on right."

Kay filed his bill in response to a News-Democrat story that reported in late October that ex-Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon was continuing to collect on a $90,000-per-year state pension 10 months after pleading guilty to rigging the delinquent property tax auctions he oversaw as treasurer from 2005 to 2009.

"The public outrage with what happened in the Bathon case, and the amount of money that he was able to draw down," Kay said, "it's made everyone scratch their head and say, 'Who's the crazy person around here?'"

Bathon's scheme cheated 10,000 property owners in return for campaign fund donations from tax buyers, three of whom have pleaded guilty to colluding with Bathon in the bid-rigging scheme.

Between January 2010, when Bathon resigned from his job as treasurer, and Dec. 6, 2013, when he was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, Bathon collected nearly $350,000 in benefits from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, state records show.

Kay's House Bill 3665 amends the Illinois pension code to cut off pension benefits to participants in a state retirement fund who are convicted of corrupt acts linked to their public service.

Kathleen O'Brien, the IMRF's general counsel, sent a letter Dec. 10 to Bathon informing the former treasurer that his pension had stopped as of Dec. 6 because he was "convicted of a felony arising out of his service as an IMRF participating employee."

As a result, Bathon's pension stopped as of the date of sentencing and the only further payment IMRF can make to him or his beneficiary is a refund of his contributions, according to O'Brien's letter.

Bathon had spent 38 years in public service jobs, including stints in the Madison County's highway department, and as the county auditor. At Bathon's sentencing, defense attorney Clyde Kuehn estimated that Bathon's lifetime pension benefits could've totaled up to $2 million.

Kay expects the bill to be assigned to the Pension Committee after state lawmakers return to Springfield on Jan. 29.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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