Illinois Taxpayers On The Hook For Pension Double-Dippers

Illinois Taxpayers On The Hook For Pension Double-Dippers

The nonprofit Wirepoints cites a former Illinois school superintendent who retired with a $230,000 pension before taking another position

Center Square Illinois, News Partner

Posted Tue, Aug 31, 2021 at 1:19 pm CT

By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square

ILLINOIS — Illinois spends more on pensions than any other state and a new report highlights the cost of so-called "double-dippers" who collect a full pension and get another job.

The nonprofit Wirepoints cites a former Illinois school superintendent who retired with a $230,000 pension before taking another position in Texas.

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With an automatic 3 percent yearly raise, Tom Leonard will receive about $6.4 million in pension benefits from Illinois taxpayers based on actuarial assumptions when his annual Illinois pension jumps to $370,000 a year. According to the report, Leonard contributed a total of $322,000 to the Illinois Teacher's Retirement System over the course of his career.

"They are not doing anything wrong, it is what the lawmakers allow them to do," Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski said. "I critique the lawmakers for allowing people to be able to retire that early and get a full pension and get jobs."

The official shortfall at Illinois' five state-run pension funds, which includes state workers, judges, teachers and university employees, increased to $144 billion in 2020, up $7 billion from the year before, according to a report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Moody's Investors Service had a different take on the amount, putting Illinois' net pension liabilities at closer to $317 billion.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said the state can't change pensions because the Illinois Constitution forbids it. Dabrowski isn't buying it.

"Gov. Pritzker said it is a fantasy to think about pension reform, but what needs to happen is we need to move, going forward, all benefits that are earned into a 401(K)-style account," Dabrowski said. "It is a simple solution and it works."

He adds the state should also suspend the automatic 3% raises for most retirees until pensions are fully funded and require state retirees to pay for more of their health insurance costs.

As for when pension reforms might taken up in Springfield, that is anyone's guess.

"We need to make sure that we don't keep making the same mistakes and make sure we fix them on a moving forward basis," said state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield.

The focus of the work of The Center Square Illinois is state- and local-level government and economic reporting that approaches stories with a taxpayer sensibility.

For more stories from The Center Square, visit


September 15, 2021 at 11:03 AM

By: John Whitfield

Principal corruption

Overtime-fraud case involving CPS principal to get more charges

By Jason Meisner Chicago Tribune

Prosecutors told a federal judge Tuesday they expect to file new charges in a case against a former Chicago Public Schools elementary school principal accused of orchestrating an overtime-kickback scheme.

The development came in a telephone status hearing for Sarah Jackson Abedelal, who was charged in July in a 10-count wire fraud indictment alleging a seven-year scheme to have employees file for overtime they didn’t work and kick back at least $200,000 to her.

Abedelal was the only one charged at the time, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Kinney said in court Tuesday that the government expects to file a superseding indictment “adding a number of counts and a number of defendants” within the next month.

U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis set a status hearing for Nov. 16.

Abedelal was the principal of Brennemann Elementary School in the Buena Park neighborhood for about 12 years until 2019, when the CPS inspector general began investigating the alleged scheme.

According to the 18-page indictment, Abedelal and several administrative underlings at Brennemann, including the assistant principal, a clerk and a business manager, ran the scheme over a seven-year period beginning in 2012. None of the other administrators was identified by name in the indictment.

Abedelal told employees that she would sign off on overtime that they never worked, and that the extra money they received would be used to pay legitimate expenses incurred by the school, when she was actually using it for her own purposes, according to the charges.

Abedelal had the employees withdraw the unearned overtime in cash on the day their paychecks were deposited. She’d then meet with them individually in her office or in classrooms to collect the cash, the indictment alleged.

To conceal the scheme, Abedelal allegedly used the cash to buy money orders at a currency exchange, which she then used to pay personal expenses, including the mortgage on her home, the indictment stated.

Brennemann, in the 4200 block of North Clarendon Avenue, serves just over 400 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students. The school’s motto is, “Where high standards and excellence are the expectations,” according to its website.

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