Indicted former Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward) has begun collecting an annual city taxpayer-funded pension of more than $114,000, even as she awaits trial on federal corruption charges, according to records obtained by WTTW News.
Austin, 73, who did not seek a seventh term on the Chicago City Council, stepped down March 1, the day after Chicago voters went to the polls to pick a new mayor and City Council.
When she stepped down, Austin was the second-longest serving member of the City Council, earning more than $142,000 annually. In July 2021, Austin was charged with accepting bribes from a developer, including bathroom tile and a sump pump, and lying to FBI agents.
Austin is now receiving more than $9,500 per month in pension payments for the rest of her life, according to records obtained by WTTW News from the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago. Those payments started the day after she retired from City Council, records show.
Indicted in July 2021, Austin has never appeared in person before U.S. District Court Judge John Kness because of her ill health and restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. The next hearing in Austin’s case is scheduled for Aug. 2, according to court records.
If Austin is convicted on those charges, she could lose her pension, since her conduct occurred as part of her official duties as an alderperson.
But Austin is attempting to convince Kness she is too ill to stand trial. If Kness agrees, Austin will collect her pension for the rest of her life.
Federal prosecutors oppose that effort, and surveillance conducted by FBI agents in November showed Austin is “not gravely ill,” but has a busy schedule and is “alert, lucid and responsive” and able to move about on her own without assistance, according to court records filed by representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois .
Thomas Durkin, Austin’s attorney, told WTTW News that “one does not lose a vested pension simply upon the filing of charges.”
Thirty-seven members of the City Council have been convicted of a crime since 1969, and federal prosecutors implored the judge in November to force Austin to stand trial and send a message to corrupt politicians.
“It is hard to overstate the importance of cases like this one,” prosecutors wrote. “The residents of this city care deeply — as they must — about honesty in their public officials. Nullifying the indictment against Austin would frustrate the public’s right to a just and speedy resolution of this case.”
Pension benefits for members of the City Council are calculated differently than for any other city employee. While city workers can receive as much as 70% of their average monthly salary, calculated based on their final four years of work, alderpeople can receive up to 80% of their salary after their retirement.
In addition, alderpeople also maximize their pension payments after 20 years of service, while all other city employees must work for 30 years to maximize their pension.
Appointed in 1994 by Mayor Richard M. Daley, Austin served for approximately 28 years and six months.
After the 2020 census, the boundaries of the 34th Ward were moved from the Far South Side, which has seen an exodus of residents, to the area around the booming West Loop.
The old 34th Ward was absorbed into what is now the 21st Ward, now represented by Ald. Ronnie Mosley. Mosley, 31, is the City Council’s youngest member.