Illinois House approves pension bill following Gliniewicz scandal

Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

David McSweeney

Legislation that would block pension benefits of a public employee from being distributed to a surviving family member, if that public employee was guilty of a felony, passed unanimously in the Illinois State House, and has now moved to the committee level in the State Senate.

The bill has clear significance in its relation to the pension situation, created by the death of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Gliniewicz.

Sponsored by state Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills), the Feb. 24 vote came following the measure’s third reading in the chambers, with a 108-0 affirmation.

Pam Althoff

“This legislation would impact future situations involving spouses of public employees conspiring to commit felonies and cheat taxpayers,” he said, in a press release. “Taxpayers should not be on the hook for paying out benefits to people trying to cheat the system. The State budget is a terrible mess right now and the last thing we need is to reward people who have conspired to cheat taxpayers.”

House Bill 350, and its companion piece, Senate Bill 896, amends the state’s pension code.

“(It) provides for the forfeiture of benefits for any person who otherwise would receive a survivor benefit who is convicted of any felony relating to, or arising out of, or in connection with, the service of the member from whom the benefit results. (It also) provides that all participants entering service after the effective date of the amendatory act shall be deemed to have consented to that provision.

It further states, “Provides that the changes under the amendatory act shall not impair any contract or vested right acquired by a survivor before the effective date of the amendatory act. Effective immediately.”

The legislation’s effectuation date would come with the signature of Gov. Bruce Rauner.  Sponsorship of the companion legislation, introduced Feb. 7, by state Sen. Pam Althoff (R-Crystal Lake), has no set timetable for passage.

“The budget talks are the prime concern right now, but I don’t see an issue of this bill passing, when it is presented,” Althoff said, when contacted. “This was introduced at the last General Assembly session, passed through the committees, and never made it to the floor for a vote. It’s currently in committee discussions.

“It’s clear that (Officer) Gliniewicz was utilizing the funds, and using access to the Explorer Post accounts, that is the connection, and used it for personal gains.”

Gliniewicz took his own life Sept. 1, 2015, allegedly in an effort to hide financial malfeasance stemming from his advisory capacity, and fiduciary handling, of the Fox Lake Explorer Post 300 bank account funds. His widow, Melodie Gliniewicz, faces nine felony and misdemeanor charges of alleged misuse of those same funds, with a tentative trial start date in May.

Fox Lake Pension Board president Fred Loffredo had said that a decision on allotting an annual pension amount to the widow is complicated. The officer was not charged with any crimes, and was on-duty at the time of his death. As a result, the pending legislation cannot be retroactively applied to the Gliniewicz situation, and its impact will be felt on similar situations going forward.

The Village of Fox Lake has registered its opposition to the pension disbursement, during a board session last year. The municipality and the pension board are two separate agencies, and Loffredo said the matter would be addressed at the close of her criminal trial. The widow’s benefits could amount in the range of 50-75 percent of his $96,000 annual salary.

The bulk of the nine indictments facing Melodie Gliniewicz, 52, surrounds three counts of Disbursing Charitable Funds Without Authority and for Personal Benefit (Class 2 felonies), one count of Disbursing Charitable Funds without Authority and for Personal Benefit (Class 3 felony), one count of Money Laundering (Class 2 felony), and one count of Money Laundering (Class 3 felony.)