A former Cook County government employee who pleaded guilty to vote fraud in 1985 is now running for election to the Cook County Pension Board, an estimated $6.9 billion retirement fund serving nearly 14, 000 public sector retirees.
The candidate is 65-year-old retiree Christine M. Trzos, who pleaded guilty to a one-count misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to pay a $500 fine and serve a year of court-supervised probation, which she completed. Trzos is running for Cook County annuitant trustee, an obscure but potentially influential decision-making position on the pension board.
Trzos has not mentioned her brush with the law in any of the biographical information she’s made available online to the retirees who are choosing between her and incumbent opponent John E. Fitzgerald, a former executive director of the Cook County Pension Fund. The election for annuitant trustee, an unpaid position, is being held Wednesday, but thousands of retirees have for weeks been casting their ballots by mail.
“Is that what you put on a resume?” Trzos told the Better Government Association in an interview. “This is something that’s nearly 27 years old. I don’t think it has any relevance.”
Trzos was among three people named in a November 1984 election fraud indictment brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, according to court documents. In March 1985, Trzos pleaded guilty to submitting a false and forged ballot in the name of her mother, court documents state.
Trzos was an election judge at the time and living on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
After accepting Trzos’ guilty plea, federal authorities notified the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which employed her. Trzos continued to work for the sheriff’s department, totaling nearly 23 years in various administrative and support jobs.
Apparently, Trzos’ past legal indiscretion didn’t faze one of the public employee unions representing retirees. In September, Teamsters Local 700 endorsed Trzos, saying she would bring a “fresh perspective” to the Cook County Pension Board.
Trzos claims she told the Teamsters representatives about her guilty plea “right upfront and they laughed.”
“They said: ‘This is a 27-year-old misdemeanor,'” said Trzos.
Representatives of Teamsters Local 700 declined to comment.
In addition, Trzos’ past poses no barrier to her running for or holding the annuitant trustee position.
The law that creates the Cook County Pension Board does not prohibit any retiree found guilty of a crime from participating in trustee elections or from being a board member, according to Joseph Griseta, an outside counsel and private attorney who is monitoring the administration of the current pension board election for the county.
The Cook County Pension Board has nine trustees who oversee the fund’s financial performance and its financial advisers. In addition to the estimated 14,000 retirees, nearly 24,000 current employees pay into the fund.
Trzos contends that instead of focusing on her past “mistake,” Cook County retirees are more concerned about the fate of their pension fund, which suffered a decline of nearly $2 billion in assets since the recession began in 2008.
“Our money needs to be watched more carefully,” she said.
This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Reed. Contact BGA with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.