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Proposed bill could withhold public pension from some convicts

<p>Convicted felon Drew Peterson's benefits have received attention since the Bolingbrook Police Pension Board last week voted unanimously to conduct a hearing to consider putting a stop to the payments.  |  AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File</p>

Convicted felon Drew Peterson's benefits have received attention since the Bolingbrook Police Pension Board last week voted unanimously to conduct a hearing to consider putting a stop to the payments.  |  AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File

Retired Bolingbrook police officer and convicted felon Drew Peterson is making news anew. It has to do with his continued $79,000 yearly public safety pension benefit.

A state bill introduced last month and now making its way through the General Assembly would allow the boards of all five of the pension systems in Illinois discretion when a benefit recipient is convicted of intimidation, bribery, official misconduct, offering or accepting kickbacks, taking money earmarked for minority businesses, or certain thefts.

“It says if you have been convicted or pleaded guilty to corruption charges, then the board can withhold your pension,” said 41st District Rep. Darlene Senger, R-Naperville, the bill’s sponsor.

Under House Bill 5816, benefits would be revoked automatically for those guilty of felony offenses for as long as they are serving prison sentences.

Peterson’s benefits have received attention since the Bolingbrook Police Pension Board last week voted unanimously to conduct a hearing to consider putting a stop to the payments. Charles Atwell, an attorney retained by the pension panel, advised that there is enough evidence for making the change to warrant a hearing.

Steven Greenberg, Peterson’s attorney, maintains there is no basis for the hearing because the murder indictment contained no allegations that the crime involved his position on the police force.

With each attorney being permitted 60 days consecutively to state his case — first Atwell and then Greenberg — the hearing will take place no sooner than late July.

Peterson, 60, was convicted in September 2012 of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in March 2004 in her Bolingbrook home while the couple were finalizing a bitter divorce. He is serving a 38-year prison term at the downstate Menard Correctional Center. He remains the prime suspect in the unresolved disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, in October 2007, Stacy, but has not been charged. He retired from police work in 2007 while under investigation for Savio’s death and Stacy’s disappearance.

Greenberg said he expects the appeal of Peterson’s murder conviction to go before the Illinois Appellate Court in the fall, and he feels strongly that his client could be vindicated.

“If the case is overturned, all this is a waste,” he said.

Peterson’s adult son, Stephen, who is raising Peterson’s two young children from his marriage to Stacy, is the beneficiary of his father’s pension payments.

A former police officer himself, Stephen Peterson was fired by the Oak Brook Police and Fire Commission in 2011 on grounds that he failed to inform authorities that he had received and kept three guns and $236,000 cash from his father while Drew was being investigated for Stacy’s disappearance. An appellate court in December upheld the dismissal.

Senger, who has been involved in committee work on the pension problem in Springfield and is in the running for the U.S. House in November, said her motivation for the new bill arose from the Peterson situation.

It’s possible that the law could leave Peterson’s benefit intact, however. Senger said a separate piece to the legislation, which has not yet been introduced on the House floor, would give the pension boards additional leeway when those receiving the benefits are children. That part of the bill, Senger said, will need to be taken up by the Personnel and Pensions Committee before it can be moved to the floor for a vote.

Sun-Times Media contributed to this story.

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