Hastert fighting to get his teacher pension back

 
 
Updated 11/21/2016 6:43 PM
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  • Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago in April after being sentenced for structuring cash withdrawals to avoid bank reporting requirements.

      Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago in April after being sentenced for structuring cash withdrawals to avoid bank reporting requirements. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is challenging a decision by the Teachers' Retirement System to terminate his pension and go after a refund of $222,808, arguing the federal charges he was convicted of last spring are not directly connected to his time as a teacher.

"No specific charges were ever brought against Mr. Hastert in relation to conduct that occurred while he was a teacher," lawyer Mark DeBofsky wrote in a letter to the pension system, which the Daily Herald obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Hastert, of Plano, is serving 15 months in a federal prison in Minnesota after pleading guilty to money laundering charges involving payments to cover up sexual misconduct. At his April 27 sentencing, Hastert admitted he had sexually abused teenage boys he'd taught and coached at Yorkville High School, where he worked from 1965 to 1981.

"The applicable limitations period for charging any such offense expired long before the federal indictment was issued," DeBofsky wrote. He also referenced a 1987 Illinois Appellate Court decision that found it is unlawful for TRS to seek to recoup benefits paid prior to the date of conviction.

At the time Hastert worked in Yorkville, Illinois' statute of limitations on abuse cases was three years. It later was expanded, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is using the Hastert case in her push to further lengthen the time limit during which charges are allowed.

TRS made its decision following Hastert's conviction based on a state law preventing pension collection by anyone with a felony conviction related to his or her time teaching.

The decision also affected another pension Hastert was receiving. The board governing the pension system for members of the General Assembly unanimously voted last month to suspend Hastert's pension until it gets a clearer picture.

Before his conviction, Hastert had been receiving three pensions totaling about $125,000 a year -- $16,000 from TRS, a $28,000 General Assembly pension from his six years as a member of the Illinois House, and $73,000 from his 20 years in Congress.

Hastert's General Assembly benefits were calculated under a statute that gave him extra credit for also being in TRS.

DeBofsky says Hastert is "entitled to retain the benefits he has already received" and should continue receiving his TRS pension for life, and his wife should retain any survivor benefits.

TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said Hastert's attorney will present his case to a hearing officer at a date that has yet to be set. Following that hearing, a committee will make a decision that later would need to be ratified by the pension system's full board.

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