CHICAGO – An administrator who retired after years as the University of Illinois’ vice president for business and finance is drawing a pension under a more lucrative formula intended for university police and firefighters, instead of the formula used for regular university employees, according to a published report.
As a result, Craig Bazzani, who had served as vice president since 1983, was able to retire with full benefits in 2002 at age 55, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.
A Tribune analysis found that Bazzani has received about $365,000 more in pension payouts over the last decade than he would have under the regular formula. During that time, he has gotten about $2.7 million from the State Universities Retirement System of Illinois, or SURS.
The Tribune cited Bazzani’s case as an example of how changes to Illinois’ pension laws allow some people to benefit from perks that may not be intended for them.
Bazzani, however, disagrees. He said he deserves his pension because he coordinated security at board meetings, worked with auditors on internal investigations and did other police-like duties.
Bazzani said he requested a police pension because he and other university officials wanted to ensure that future employees who had “bundled” or varied responsibilities would also be compensated appropriately.
“There’s nothing I have done ever in my career that has been unethical,” he said. “It sickens me a little bit to have to personally go through this.”
Documents from the State Universities Retirement System indicate it turned down Bazzani’s initial request to be allowed to contribute to the retirement fund under the police formula.
“As Chief Financial Officer, you do not perform the duties of or assume the risk of a Police Officer,” wrote Donald Hoffmeister, then executive director of SURS. “Without clarifying legislation, I urge you not to claim the police formula.”
Eight months later, a provision in a larger pension bill created a broad definition of “police officer” under the SURS statutes. Bazzani says he had nothing to do with the change and didn’t know anything about it until after it passed and he received a letter informing him that he had become eligible to use the police formula.
“I spoke to no one, either at SURS, no one in state government, no one on our legislative staff, not ever. The answer is as strong a no as I can tell you,” he said.
Bazzani’s pension payout this year will be about $312,000, the Tribune reported. He also is drawing an annual salary of about $240,000 from the University of Illinois Foundation. The university’s private fundraising arm hired him two months after his 2002 retirement, and he’s helped bring in millions of dollars in government and private funding for the university.
Bazzani said he has turned down salary raises equivalent to about $110,500 since he joined the foundation.