Tom Cross may propose law to revoke pension of prisoners

Lawmakers outraged over convicted murderer still collecting pension

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Tom Cross Tom Cross
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A FOX 32 investigation into a retired Chicago firefighter, who is still drawing a tax-paid pension while imprisoned for murder, is getting the attention of a top state lawmaker.

Republican house minority leader Tom Cross is outraged and says lawmakers need to take action so it never happens again.

FOX 32 News first broke the story of 76-year-old former firefighter Eugene Ornstead who was convicted of killing his wife in 1994 and has been behind bars ever since.

We obtained records showing Ornstead resigned from the Chicago Fire Department just days after the murder, and almost immediately began collecting his pension in the form of a monthly check for $4,645. That's more than $55,000 a year and more than $840,000 since he committed the murder.

Under state law it's perfectly legal because the crime had nothing to do with his service as a firefighter.

"Maybe you have to look at changing the statute where there's something of a violent or heinous crime committed and convicted, where you could say alright, that would be an example where somebody would not have their pension," Cross says.

Donald Walsh is a retired fire department paramedic who's worried his pension is in danger. The Chicago firefighter's pension is only 28 percent funded and is predicted to run out of assets in a few years.

Walsh and other retired firefighters are forming a watchdog group to keep an eye on the pension's trustees who they believe need to do a better job

"It's so outrageous," Walsh says. "It really is and the law needs to be changed. "We're gonna be in some serious financial trouble if they don't get their financial management back on track."

Our investigation also found Ornstead's pension checks are being cashed by his daughter who is a Chicago police officer with power of attorney over his financial affairs.

She says she spends some of the money on herself.

Cross says it may be legal, but "it's not fair to the taxpayers."

"It's not fair to the firefighters who are worried about their own pensions because of the system, so the statute needs to be looked at," he adds.

Cross says he might also propose a law allowing the state to take the pension money of any prisoner while they're behind bars to offset the cost of their incarceration.

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