Stone Park police department / www.vosp.us
Former Stone Park Police Chiefs Seymour Sapoznik and Harry Testa have had run-ins with the law. So has former Mayor Robert Natale. All three were convicted of felonies, but they’re still collecting taxpayer-supported pensions from an unusual village fund.
Sapoznik is also a member of the pension board, which oversees financial decisions for the fund. And if that’s not enough, Natale and Sapoznik might have been stripped of their pensions if they belonged to almost any other publicly funded plan in the state. It’s unclear if Testa would have lost his pension.
State laws say public officials or employees stand to lose their pensions if they’re convicted of a job-related felony. Stone Park operates outside many other local retirement funds because municipalities with very small populations are allowed to manage their own pension plans, according to Dean Krone, attorney for the west suburb’s pension fund.
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Sapoznik pled guilty in 1997 to taking bribes from the mob in exchange for protecting illegal gaming interests while he was police chief in Northlake. During sentencing the U.S. attorney’s office successfully argued Sapoznik’s illegal activities dated back to his days in Stone Park, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Levine, who prosecuted Natale and Sapoznik.
Natale pled guilty in 2001 for similar offenses, according to court records and interviews.
“The guy took a monthly bribe for decades as police chief,” Levine, who is now in private practice, said in reference to Sapoznik’s tenure in Stone Park and Northlake. “Now he’s out of jail and sitting on a pension board? Natale took a monthly bribe [for years too].”
Sapoznik is receiving $11,400 annually from the public-sector pension fund while Natale is pulling in $24,600, according to records obtained from the fund through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Sapoznik’s position as a board member also raised eyebrows with pension experts since he has influence on investments. Louis Kosiba, the executive director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, cautioned putting a felon convicted of taking bribes from the mob in a position to influence pension investments.
“They will be making decisions on investing,” Kosiba said. “The temptation can always be there if money has corrupted this person in the past.”
IMRF is one of the largest pension funds in the state and covers hundreds of suburban and downstate municipalities.
Sapoznik and Natale did not return numerous messages seeking comment.
Testa, the former police chief of Stone Park, was convicted in 1984 of mail fraud in connection with an insurance scam and again in 1992 for selling cocaine to an undercover cop, according to public records and the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office. It’s unclear if Testa’s fraud conviction was related to his job as police chief. Testa is currently receiving $7,440 annually from the fund.
“I resigned before I was ever found guilty,” Testa said in a brief phone interview. “It’s a thing in the past I don’t even want to remember.”
Municipalities with less than 5,000 people are not required to join IMRF. Stone Park is just below that, although many other municipalities opt to join IMRF anyway, according to Kosiba.
“All of the public pension plans have a provision that says any conviction [related to your government position]… you will not receive a pension,” Kosiba said.
Former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Richard Sarallo forfeited his IMRF pension after he was convicted of tax evasion. The felony conviction was job- related since he did not pay taxes on income from his position as mayor, according to IMRF. Sarallo died in 2006.
Stone Park has reached out to IMRF about joining its pension fund and has recently ramped up talks, according to Kosiba and Krone. Existing annuitants would keep their pensions and current and future employees could join IMRF if Stone Park makes the switch.
Stone Park’s pension fund was only 45 percent funded as of April 2012, the most recent figure available. The recommended funding level for any public pension is at least 80 percent, according to pension experts.