Two Brothers, Six Pensions

State Rep. Robert Rita and his brother might each draw three taxpayer-funded pensions down the road. Even for a political family, that’s a big take-away.

Robert Rita SunTimes
State Rep. Robert Rita / Credit: Sun-Times Media file photo

You may have heard of double dippers – government employees or retirees collecting two public-sector paychecks or pensions.

But how about triple-dipping brothers?

That’s one way to describe Robert Rita, a state lawmaker and Calumet Township supervisor, and John Rita Jr., a retired Cook County sheriff’s commander now working for the City of Blue Island.

Down the road the brothers stand to collect a total of six taxpayer-subsidized pensions if certain criteria are met. Even in Illinois, where double dippers abound and triple dippers have been known to exist, six pensions between two siblings is notable.

"Yes, it’s unusual," says Robert Rita, a Democratic state representative from Blue Island. "But it’s not like we’re doing this because of the pensions." "I’m from a family that’s dedicated to public service."

The Ritas are like Blue Island’s version of the Daleys. The brothers’ father, John Rita Sr., was Blue Island’s mayor, while their mother, Rose Rita, was an alderman and supervisor of Calumet Township. Both parents are now deceased.

Sister Nancy Rita, 49, also is a Blue Island alderman, in addition to working as an administrative assistant in the office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans. The $62,695-a-year county job comes with a pension.

As a state lawmaker, Robert Rita, 44, was paid $74,569 last year. His township supervisor salary is $67,000 a year – after a 23 percent raise that took effect in June, according to interviews and public records.

Up until last February he also worked as an administrative analyst for the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways, and is vested in Cook County’s government pension plan, as well as the retirement plans covering the General Assembly and townships. His annual county salary was $93,423, though he wasn’t paid when he took time off to handle legislative matters.

If Robert Rita waits until age 60 to collect his lawmaker, township and county pensions, his total benefit could exceed $118,000 a year, according to a Better Government Association analysis.

Tops would be his lawmaker’s pension, at an estimated $63,000 a year, followed by a $28,000-a-year township pension, through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, and a county pension of $27,000, according to the BGA analysis, which assumed that Rita serves at least another decade as a state representative and supervisor, and that his salaries remain at current levels.

John Rita Jr., 61, already collects an annual county pension of $90,588, based on 32 years as a sheriff’s employee, records show.

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He also is eligible for – but hasn’t started collecting –a second pension from the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS), based on nearly a decade as an $85,644-a-year administrator for state-government youth centers in Chicago and Joliet.

A BGA analysis shows his starting SERS pension would be more than $13,000 a year. When John Rita Jr. left state government to become Blue Island’s director of public safety in July, it put him in line for a third government pension, providing he works for the city for at least eight years.

John Rita Jr. was appointed to the $90,000-a-year Blue Island position by Mayor Domingo Vargas, who was elected last April.

The Rita brothers had campaigned for the mayor, and records show John Rita Jr. donated $1,000 to a Vargas-linked campaign fund. But he says he didn’t support Vargas in hopes of landing a job – or a third pension.

"I know what it looks like but that wasn’t my intention," he says. "I didn’t come here looking for a windfall."

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at (312) 821-9035 or aschroedter@bettergov.org.