Pension board seeks state’s attorney investigation of cop’s disability pay
BY CHRIS FUSCO AND TIM NOVAK Staff Reporters August 16, 2012 10:30PM
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Chicago police pension officials have asked the Cook County state’s attorney to investigate a cop who has taken up big-game hunting while collecting more than $700,000 in disability pay because he says he can’t safely fire a weapon.
The city’s request came July 31, two weeks after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that the officer, Charles T. Siedlecki, had been on African safaris in which he shot and killed a hippopotamus, a wildebeest and other animals.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the decision by the eight-member pension board, which includes his top two financial advisers.
“The pension board is taking the right step by referring this case of suspected fraud to the state’s attorney,” said Sarah Hamilton, Emanuel’s communications director. “It is sad when any individual would be dishonest about their disability to take advantage of the system.”
State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office declined to comment on Siedlecki’s case and refused to release any correspondence between her office and the pension fund.
“I am not currently at liberty to admit or deny the existence of a pending criminal investigation,” assistant state’s attorney Paul A. Castiglione wrote in response to a Sun-Times inquiry. “I cannot amplify any reasons for denying this request at this time.”
Siedlecki couldn’t be reached for comment.
Siedlecki, 57, fell and injured his left shoulder while on duty nearly 20 years ago and has never returned to work. Since going on disability leave, he has become a lawyer and a director of his family’s funeral-home business in Canaryville.
He’s collected more than $715,000 in disability pay — all of it tax-free. Last month, he told the Sun-Times he plans to stay on disability leave until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 63.
If that happens, he’d collect about $1 million in disability pay — and then begin getting a pension based on the years he spent on disability leave. His pension would be no less than $51,672, his current annual disability payment.
Siedlecki is eligible to retire. But if he did, he would lose the free family health insurance available to all disabled officers.
In the wake of the Sun-Times investigation, the police pension board has set a hearing for Aug. 30 to “determine his entitlement to [disability] benefits,” according to a letter pension board attorney David R. Kugler sent to Alvarez.
Siedlecki is among 347 police officers on disability leave, collecting a total of $18 million a year in benefits from the cash-strapped pension fund that’s subsidized by taxpayers. Few ever return to work once they go on disability, the Sun-Times found.
The newspaper’s investigation also revealed that Siedlecki and several other officers are working other jobs while together collecting millions of dollars in disability pay. The pension board is reviewing the medical records of all those officers, officials said.
Siedlecki, like most injured officers, undergoes annual medical exams — one year by his doctor and the next by doctors for the pension fund.
Two years ago, his doctor signed a two-page report stating that Siedlecki isn’t “capable of safely discharging a firearm.” Disabled police officers can’t return to work unless they can walk without assistance and protect their weapons.
While Siedlecki was on disability, the state’s attorney’s office prosecuted him for slapping his wife, who was then a Chicago Police officer, in their Southwest Side home seven years ago. He pleaded guilty to simple battery and was placed on court supervision for a year, records show.
As part of his supervision, Siedlecki was prohibited from “possessing firearms for the purpose of hunting” and required to stay in Illinois — a court order that would have forced him to cancel his plans to take his teenage son on a month-long hunting trip to Tanzania in summer 2005.
Siedlecki and his wife Maureen later convinced the judge to ease the terms of his supervision so he could take his son on the $100,000 safari.
Siedlecki and his wife, who has since retired from the Chicago police department, live in LaPorte, Ind.