The Illinois Supreme Court today rejected a bid by imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan to keep a portion of his lucrative government pension that was built up before his corrupt reign as governor and secretary of state.
The high court’s 6-1 decision cost the disgraced former Republican governor $70,824 a year, sending an unmistakable message from the court to Illinois’ governing elite that cronyism and corruption do not pay.
“As the victims of Ryan’s crimes, the taxpayers of the state of Illinois are under no obligation to now fund his retirement,” Justice Robert R. Thomas wrote in the court’s majority opinion.
The state General Assembly Retirement System had moved to strip Ryan, who turns 76 next Wednesday, of the entire $197,037 pension he was drawing annually up until his 2006 conviction on racketeering, conspiracy, mail fraud and other corruption charges linked to his tenure as governor and secretary of state.
But last year, a state appeals court reversed that decision, saying he should get to keep pension earnings from his 24 years as a Kankakee County official, state legislator and lieutenant governor – posts in which he was not accused of criminal wrongdoing.
“Although Ryan held multiple public offices over the course of his time in the system, all of those offices were in service to a single public employer — the state of Illinois. And it was the state of Illinois whose trust Ryan betrayed when he committed 16 job-related felonies,” Thomas wrote.
The lone dissenting justice was Anne Burke, who contended a 2005 ruling by the court in another case should dictate that Ryan keep his pension earnings from before his time as secretary of state and governor.
“I do not intend to diminish in any way the seriousness of the criminal acts committed by the former governor. Also I understand the very human impulse to want to punish Ryan for his wrongdoings by depriving him of all of his pension benefits,” Burke wrote. “However, while I sympathize with such impulses, our constitutional obligation is to follow the law, not our personal preferences.”