CHICAGO – A former Chicago firefighter who was convicted in the 1994 slaying of his wife has received more than $55,000 a year in pension payments from behind bars, according to a televised report.
WFLD-TV reported there’s nothing illegal about the money – more than $840,000 in all – that Eugene Ornstead has collected over the years.
“Nobody feels good about giving a pension to a convicted felon, but we have to follow the [state] statutes like everyone else,” Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund President Ken Kaczmarz said in a statement.
Under Illinois law, public pensions must still be paid to criminals, unless the crime was committed as part of the pensioner’s job, pension expert Bill Zettler told the TV station.
Now 76 and in a medium-security prison in Redgranite, Wis., Ornstead gets a monthly check from the Chicago firefighter’s pension fund for $4,645.
The TV station said he resigned from the department and applied for the money in a handwritten note, just days after his wife’s beating death.
The station said Ornstead was eligible for more pension money because his wife was dead, and therefore he was considered a “sole survivor.”
Zettler told the station that the payments may raise eyebrows, even if they’re entirely legal.
“Why should the taxpayers be paying a pension to somebody who’s in prison for life?” Zettler said. “Social Security, if you’re in prison you don’t get it. You can start it again if you’re out.”
Ornstead won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 100. Ornstead’s daughter from a previous marriage has power of attorney over her father’s finances and has been cashing the checks the past 19 years.
A current Chicago police officer, she said her father deserves his pension.
“What he did, he’s serving time for it,” said Kristyn McClearn. “Is it right that he gets his pension? Yes, he deserves his pension. What he did has nothing to do with his being a fireman.”