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Secret deal from Daley boosted fire chief’s pension by $27,000 a year

Raymond Orozco Jr. left speaking as then-Mayor Richard M. Daley's chief staff about winter storm preparations 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Raymond Orozco Jr., left, speaking as then-Mayor Richard M. Daley's chief of staff about winter storm preparations in 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 12, 2013 2:20PM

F or two years, Raymond Orozco Jr. led the Chicago Fire Department. But when it came time to calculate the city fire pension he now gets, Orozco got credit for four years as fire commissioner under a potentially lucrative secret deal engineered by the Daley administration, a Chicago Sun-Times/Better Government Association investigation has found.

The deal quietly gave Orozco back his fire commissioner’s title three months after then-Mayor Richard M. Daley shifted him to a post heading the city Office of Emergency Management and Communications. That allowed Orozco’s OEMC salary to be used to boost his fire pension.

The difference? For now, about $27,000 a year in Orozco’s pocket. Over his lifetime, it could be an additional $800,000.

Orozco went on to be Daley’s last chief of staff. When Daley left office, Orozco retired from city government and started drawing his fire pension in June 2011 at age 52, records show — even as he moved on to briefly head After School Matters, the charity founded by Daley’s late wife, Maggie Daley.

If Orozco lives to 82, he’ll collect at least $4.3 million in pension payments from the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund.

Orozco now gets a $144,000 yearly pension — the most among the approximately 2,800 retired firefighters now receiving benefits from the taxpayer-supported fund, which is deep in debt and the worst-funded of the city’s four employee pension funds.

Without the deal he got under Daley, Orozco would be in line to get $3.5 million by 82 — the life expectancy for someone Orozco’s age — and would now be getting $117,000 a year.

Orozco, who contributed about $211,000 toward his pension, would not comment.

He’s perhaps best known for his decision as Daley’s chief of staff to keep Lake Shore Drive open even as the blizzard of February 2011 enveloped the city, leading to hundreds of vehicles being stranded.

Orozco, who moved from the Southwest Side to Will County after leaving city government, joined the Chicago Fire Department on Feb. 19, 1980, during a firefighters strike. He held the fire department’s top post from May 2006 through July 2008, when Daley moved him to OEMC, which runs the city’s 911 center.

The Chicago City Council approved that appointment at the same time it approved Daley’s choice of John Brooks to succeed Orozco as fire commissioner.

Three months later, at Brooks’ request, the Daley administration gave Orozco the expanded title of “fire commissioner/executive director of OEMC,” according to interviews and pension records, though officials routinely referred to Brooks as fire commissioner. Orozco “wasn’t running the day-to-day operations,” says Tom Ryan, president of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2. “John [Brooks] was at the helm.” Robert Hoff, who followed Brooks as fire commissioner from 2010 to 2012, says he didn’t know of Orozco’s dual title until a reporter asked about it.

Brooks won’t comment. Daley didn’t respond to messages.

When Orozco applied for his pension, the fire pension fund questioned why he was credited for four years as fire commissioner. Mara Georges, who was Daley’s top lawyer at City Hall, responded that Orozco had the “role and title” of fire commissioner while also serving as OEMC’s executive director and that his pension should be based on his “four-year salary as fire commissioner.”

Firefighter pensions in Chicago are based on a retiree’s four highest-paid years during the final decade of service.

When he started as fire commissioner, Orozco got a 15 percent raise — to $182,016 a year, from $158,484. Seven months later, on Jan. 1, 2007, he got another raise, to $185,652. That’s what he started at when he moved to OEMC. Then, on Jan. 1, 2009, he got another raise, of about $4,000, to $189,660.

Anthony Martin, secretary of the pension fund, says Georges’ letter guided the decision to give Orozco the bigger pension.

Georges says she didn’t write to the fire pension fund “with any pension enhancement in mind” for Orozco.

“I am confident that my letter accurately put forth the facts,” says Georges, who is now partners with the former mayor’s brother Michael Daley in the law firm Daley & Georges.

Andrew Schroedter works for the Better Government Association.

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