IL Official Questions Pension Investment

September 9, 2005 ( - Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka tried at a board meeting without success to get the Illinois State Board of Investment to withdraw its $120 million investment in Commonwealth Realty Advisors.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Topinka didn’t know of Commonwealth’s ties with William Cellini, a prominent Republican powerbroker, when she allowed her vote to be cast to invest the money.   Cellini heads a hotel consortium that owes taxpayers $27.5 million.

Topinka was criticized for her vote for the investment because, in 1995, she proposed to allow the hotel consortium to pay back a $5.5 million state loan for 25 cents on the dollar.   The deal was blocked and Topinka has been fighting in court to get back the full amount ever since, the Sun-Times reports.

Two of Cellini’s children own 75% of Commonwealth stock, and even though the board did not agree to take back its investment, they did vote to invite the company and a consulting firm that recommended it to attend a board meeting in December to answer questions.   Another board member, Thomas Hoffman, said “I want to know who is in control of those trusts, and I think they’re obligated to tell us who votes their stock.”

In another related article, the Sun-Times reports that there’s also controversy surrounding the Illinois State Teachers’ Retirement System with regard to its ties to Cellini.   Conflict of interest questions have arisen regarding ties Cellini has with TRS board member James Bruner.   Bruner and Cellini sit on several state boards together and Bruner also sits on boards with Cellini’s wife.  

According to the Sun-Times, in spite of his close ties with Cellini, Bruner did not excuse himself from voting on investments from the TRS into Commonwealth totaling $370 million.