Improper pension of $82K paid back

MELROSE PARK | State says no to police chief's deal

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Melrose Park's police chief has quietly paid back more than $82,000 in pension benefits he improperly received while still on the village police force, after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed the unusual arrangement.

Police Chief Sam Pitassi retired in July last year as police chief then was quickly re-hired as a consultant to the village, with essentially the same responsibilities as chief. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported the unusual deal in April.

Under the agreement, Pitassi could collect his pension of $8,125 a month plus his consultant's salary of $65,000 a year, for more than $162,000 a year.

At the time, Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico called the arrangement "a good-government thing."

Unfortunately for Pitassi, the state didn't agree, and despite efforts by village officials to make the deal work for Pitassi, he wound up giving the pension money back.

With the deal dead, village officials promptly rehired Pitassi back as police chief in July this year -- at $130,000 a year.

Pitassi was alerted early on by the police pension board attorney that the pension arrangement might not fly under Illinois law, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Later, an attorney for the village sought advice from the Illinois Department of Insurance on whether the deal was valid, and the answer was no.

"In essence, Mr. Pitassi's duties as an administrator under the employment agreement appear to be substantially identical or potentially identical to the duties that Mr. Pitassi was required to perform as the chief of police prior to his retirement," according to the letter, written in March by Glen R. Gasiorek, staff attorney for the Illinois Department of Insurance.

Village attorneys rewrote Pitassi's consulting contract, but the village police pension board still did not approve Pitassi getting a pension while doing essentially the same job he did before as chief but under a different title.

One pension board member, Larry Spino, said in an interview he felt the measure was being pushed through.

"I'm not going to vote for something that's wrong," Spino said.

"I've got one interest -- to keep that pension fund healthy."