Legal experts: Mautino should lose pension if convicted
Following a recent move by Illinois lawmakers to have Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino removed from office amid state and federal investigations into questionable campaign spending during his tenure as state representative, questions have been raised about whether Mautino should lose his pension if convicted.
Legal experts said he should.
“If convicted, he absolutely should lose his pension,” Jared Labell, executive director for Taxpayers United of America (TUA), said. “Term limits take on a new meaning in Illinois, considering how many government officials end up serving terms in jail.”
Under Illinois Pension Forfeiture Law, pension benefits of any public employee can be revoked for any felony conviction related to official duties. The final decision on whether to revoke such benefits is left to the trustees of individual pension funds.
Other states are pursuing stricter pension-forfeiture laws. In New York, legislators are pushing a pension-forfeiture bill that would allow any state public official convicted of a felony related to public office to be stripped of all pension benefits.
Currently, New York law permits the state to strip away pension benefits from state officials convicted of crimes related to their public office who were hired after Nov. 13, 2011 -- when a 2011 ethics-reform law became effective. But under current law, the state cannot touch pensions of state officials hired before then, regardless of convictions.
Things are different, however, in the Land of Lincoln, as former Gov. George Ryan found out.
Following his 2006 conviction on 18 counts of criminal activity, the General Assembly Retirement System of Illinois (GARS) Board voted to suspend Ryan’s pension. Although he appealed the board’s decision to the Circuit Court of Cook County, arguing that he should not be deprived of pension benefits accrued from his years of government employment prior to his criminal conduct, the court upheld the board’s decision, and Ryan lost all pension benefits.
Ryan’s case is proof that Mautino may very well lose his entire pension accumulated over 24 years of service in the General Assembly.
Mautino began serving as auditor general in January after being appointed by the General Assembly in October. Shortly after taking office, questions began surfacing after probes into his campaign records as a member of the General Assembly revealed questionable spending.
Mautino’s disclosure reports revealed more than $200,000 spent on gas and vehicle repairs over a span of 11 years at Happy’s Super Service in Spring Valley, which is Mautino’s hometown, and more than $200,000 in irregular payments to Spring Valley City Bank since 1999.
Labell said TUA did not support Mautino’s appointment to auditor general last year because he was “a terrible steward” of tax dollars while serving in the General Assembly. So naturally, as a taxpayer advocacy group, the idea of Mautino serving as auditor general “seemed ridiculous to us,” Labell said.
Earlier this month, 20 Republican legislators filed a joint House resolution, HJR 158, calling for Mautino’s removal from office. The lawmakers have asked House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Dist. 22) to bring the resolution to the House floor at the General Assembly’s next scheduled meeting.
“If the public outcry is sufficient, he can be forced out of office by the loss of public trust," Labell said. "Once government officials are under serious investigation and uncooperative, I see little reason for taxpayers to rejoice to subsidizing their income."
After repeated inquiries from legislators for Mautino to respond to their requests for information, many began calling for his resignation amid looming investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“I think those calling for resignation now are trying to move the story to its logical conclusion, even without full due process, perhaps in an effort for him to receive a reduced sentence,” Labell said. “Perhaps it's because the investigation is dragging on or it's just political posturing. But in any case, there's enough corruption in Illinois politics to go around, and on behalf of beleaguered taxpayers, we're happy to see officials resign.”
Attorney Eugene Keefe of Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates said that Mautino “will certainly lose” his pension if convicted and said his firm did not support Mautino’s appointment, which he chalked up to being “wholly political.”
Keefe said the cloud of suspicion looming over Mautino is troubling.
“They are calling for his resignation as the evidence, gossip and stories about him and his use of campaign funds are very embarrassing,” Keefe said.