Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan filed a lawsuit Wednesday against state retirement officials, fighting to keep a pension of more than $60,000 a year he says he earned before the scandals that led to his wide-ranging fraud conviction in April.
The seven-member board of the General Assembly Retirement System voted unanimously last month to cancel Ryan's entire $197,000-a-year pension in light of the conviction.
But that decision was "erroneous," Ryan's lawyers argued in the suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court. They contend that Ryan's racketeering and fraud conviction dealt only with his actions as secretary of state and governor, not his 24 previous years in public office.
"The board of trustees failed to produce any evidence that Ryan's felony conviction related to or arose out of ... his service as a member of the Kankakee County Board of Supervisors, a member of the Illinois General Assembly or lieutenant governor," wrote Ryan's attorneys, who include former Gov. James R. Thompson.
Thompson's argument, if successful, would allow Ryan to collect $61,885 a year, nearly his entire ending salary as lieutenant governor, pension officials have said.
Ryan was convicted on charges that, as secretary of state and governor, he awarded sweetheart deals to friends and used state resources and employees for political gain.
He was sentenced in September to 6 1/2 years in prison. A federal appeals court ruled last month that Ryan could remain free during his appeal.
Officials at the retirement system and state Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's office could not be reached for comment.
But retirement officials, relying on a legal opinion from Madigan, said in an earlier ruling that Ryan's attorneys had misinterpreted state law on pensions.
According to the retirement board, public officials who commit felonies relating to their "official duties" forfeit the right to receive any pension from the state.
Though Ryan held many positions over the years, "there is but one employer, the state of Illinois," the board ruled.
If Ryan's position prevailed, the law would be too weak to deter corruption, the board said.
Since leaving the governor's office in 2003, Ryan has collected $630,000 from the pension fund. Officials said that the board's ruling did not require Ryan to return that money and that he is eligible to be refunded the $235,508 he paid into the system.