Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Julia M. Nowicki Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McNULTY
Chicago aldermen are among the wide variety of Illinois municipal employees subject to state statutory provisions that disqualify them from pension benefit eligibility if they are convicted of a felony relating to, arising out of or connected with their employment. Plaintiff Lawrence S. Bloom, a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to the charge of filing a false federal tax return, a felony. Since, in the course of the negotiation and signing of his plea agreement, Bloom admitted that some of the funds falsely categorized on his return were amounts paid to him in exchange for his improper use of his public office, the trustees of his pension fund found his crime "arose out of or was in connection with" his position and denied his application for benefits. Bloom appeals a circuit court order upholding that determination; we affirm.
Bloom, alderman of Chicago's Fifth Ward from 1979 to 1995, was charged with multiple crimes in a 14-count federal indictment issued in July 1997. Although the indictment resulted from the "Silver Shovel" investigation of corruption in city government and accused Bloom of activities that would have constituted misuse of his public office, two counts of the indictment alleged that Bloom had filed false federal tax returns and did not include any claims of official misconduct.
Bloom reached agreement with federal prosecutors on a plea of guilty to one of the tax charges: that he filed a return for his private real estate business, Shoreline Realty Company, which stated that the company had incurred a loss of $89 for the year 1994 although he knew that the company had in fact ended the year with material net taxable income. As a result of the agreement, Bloom was convicted of filing a false return and the remaining counts of the indictment were dismissed.
In the sentencing process, prosecutors asked United States District Court Judge Milton Shadur for an enhancement of Bloom's penalty because his conviction "involved the abuse of a position of public trust." Judge Shadur denied that request: "I am not agreeing with that position. The offense of conviction as such, the violation of the tax law, did not involve an abuse of position of public trust just because some of the funds that were received and reported improperly had derived from circumstances in which other counts that have not served as a basis for a guilty plea could be characterized in that fashion." Bloom received a six-month prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.
In February and April of 1999, Bloom sent written requests for annuity payments to the entity that was to provide his pension benefits, the Municipal Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (the Fund). Neither request prompted payment from the Fund. Instead, the Fund's board of trustees (the Board) conducted a hearing on Bloom's eligibility and issued a written determination that Bloom's conviction disqualified him from benefits pursuant to a provision of section 8-251 of the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/8-251 (West 1998)): "None of the benefits provided for in this Article shall be paid to any person who is convicted of any felony relating to or arising out of or in connection with his service as a municipal employee."
The Board's order was based on several findings of fact, including:
"Lawrence S. Bloom was convicted of the felony of preparing and filing a false Federal Income Tax Return on which he reported income that he admitted he received for performing unlawful acts as an Alderman of the Fifth Ward;
In exchange for money, Mr. Bloom used his name, official position, and influence as Alderman of the Fifth Ward to assist John Christopher in obtaining and operating sites for his private rock-crushing business;
Mr. Bloom accepted money and used his position and influence as Alderman of the Fifth Ward to obtain street sweeping to clean up waste created by Mr. Christopher's private business;
Mr. Bloom accepted money and used his position and influence as Alderman of the Fifth Ward to contact another alderman on behalf of Mr. Christopher's private business, while misrepresenting and concealing Mr. Christopher's identity;
While failing to disclose his financial relationship with Mr. Christopher, Mr. Bloom accepted money and used his position and influence as Alderman of the Fifth Ward to deflect constituent complaints about Mr. Christopher's private business;
In exchange for money and in violation of his aldermanic position, Mr. Bloom assisted Mr. Christopher in ...