The ex-wife of convicted former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Moreno, who is now serving 11 years in prison for his role in bribery and kickback schemes, has sued her former lawyers, saying legal missteps cost her Moreno’s pension, which instead was seized by the U.S. government.
On Feb. 5, Nancy Moreno filed a legal malpractice action in Cook County Circuit Court against attorneys Howard H. Rosenfeld and Shaska Rice and the law firm of Rosenfeld Hafron Shapiro & Farmer, of Chicago, alleging they didn’t do enough to prevent federal prosecutors from taking her ex-husband’s pension before it could transfer to her under a divorce decree.
Joseph Moreno, who had served on the Cook County Board from 1994-2013 and at one point earned nearly $200,000 per year, began drawing pension benefits in 2012, two years after he left office following his defeat to former state Senator Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, according to Cook County records.
However, Moreno was indicted in 2012 on corruption charges for allegedly masterminding at least nine separate schemes, involving kickbacks, bribes and tax evasion, among other accusations, over three years. He pleaded guilty in July 2013 to a count of conspiracy to commit extortion for soliciting bribes from a hospital supply company, and was later sentenced to prison.
U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman described Moreno’s schemes as “brazen,” saying Moreno “embraced them with gusto and pursued them with vigor.”
According to Nancy Moreno’s complaint, she and her ex-husband entered into a divorce decree on Feb. 25, 2014. As part of the divorce, the Morenos agreed that Nancy “shall be entitled to 100 percent of Joseph’s retirement benefits, separation fund, partial refund and lump sum benefit, if any.” The divorce agreement included a provision directing the preparation and entry of a “Qualified Illinois Domestic Relations Order” to cement the “assigning … of Joseph’s Cook County pension benefit to Nancy.” The QILDRO specified the pension should be “assigned to Nancy in its entirety as of the date of the entry of the” divorce decree.
On March 14, 2014, however, federal prosecutors moved to seize Moreno’s pension benefits to satisfy a lien placed by the federal government over unpaid taxes. According to a report published in the Chicago Sun-Times, the lien was for $134,192.
The Moreno’s QILDRO was entered on April 23, 2014, the complaint said, and the document was “served … upon the pension fund” on May 2, 2014.
In federal court, however, a judge later said the pension funds should go to the U.S. government, and not to Nancy.
In her complaint, Nancy Moreno said that adverse decision was the result of “the defendants failure in securing her pension benefits.”
The complaint does not specify what, precisely, Nancy Moreno believed the lawyers should have done differently, other than saying they did not “provide the standard of care owed a legal client in representation in such matters.”
Nancy Moreno has demanded unspecified damages.
She is represented in the action by attorney Philip J. Berenz, of the Berenz Law Network Professional Corporation, of Chicago.