Two months after voting to give a convicted cop his retirement benefits, Chicago’s police pension fund Thursday took it all away from former Officer William Pruente.
By a unanimous vote, the trustees of the benefit fund blocked Pruente – and his ex-wife – from collecting his annual pension of more than $46,000.
The same panel had voted on Nov. 25 to let Pruente keep the pension, despite a state law dictating that police officers convicted of a felony in the line of duty cannot collect their retirement benefits.
Three years ago, Pruente was found guilty of perjury, official misconduct and obstruction of justice for lying in his testimony about a traffic stop in 2013. A state appellate panel rejected his attempt to overturn his felony convictions last year.
After Thursday’s vote, a lawyer for Pruente said he planned to sue to get the former cop his pension and predicted the litigation would be successful because board rules do not allow the trustees to change their mind.
“I cannot come up with any reason why they would take a vote, give someone their pension and then turn around and so cruelly, so cruelly take it away from him,” said the lawyer, Timothy Grace.
The pension board includes four representatives elected by police, three appointees of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin.
In the board’s first vote on Pruente’s case in November, three current police officers and one retiree supported giving him his pension, over the objections of Conyears-Ervin and Lightfoot aide Stephen Skardon. Two other mayoral appointees to the cop pension board missed the November meeting.
At the following meeting, on Dec. 20, the board “rescinded” the previous, 4-2 vote in Pruente’s favor and put off what they said would be their final determination until Thursday’s meeting.
All seven trustees who attended Thursday’s meeting agreed that they should not let Pruente keep his pension.
Mike Lappe, a retired officer, was one of three board members who changed sides on the matter. He had backed Pruente in the November vote.
After Thursday’s vote, Lappe told WBEZ, “It’s absolutely terrible, and believe me we feel his pain, but, you know, today’s decision – I mean, we had to do what we had to do, and hopefully the courts will work it out.”
Conyears-Ervin said Illinois pension law left her with no doubt.
“We’re talking about taxpayers’ dollars,” she said. “I knew from day one, which is why I voted ‘no’ from day one, that he should not receive those benefits.”
Pruente had made an emotional appeal during the November meeting, and profusely thanked the four trustees who initially sided with him. He did not testify during Thursday’s meeting and left quickly after the vote without commenting.
Grace, his lawyer, said the board’s reversal “came out of nowhere.”
“His ex-wife was supposed to see part of the pension benefits, and he was supposed to receive part of his pension benefits,” Grace said. “The board gave it to him. They said they were going to give him it. They sent him the letters saying he was going to get it.
“Then for some reason – Chicago, doesn’t surprise me – they changed it and turned it all around, with no authority to do so.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ.