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Dan Rostenkowski

Dan Rostenkowski was an American politician who was the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee (1981-1994), while serving as an 18-term U.S. Congressman for the 8th District of Illinois (1959-1995).

U.S. Rep. Rostenkowski was later charged with 17 counts of corruption for misuse of public taxpayer funds and was sentenced to 17 months in Federal prison.

Dan Rostenkowski
Dan Rostenkowski
Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: Daniel David Rostenkowski

Nickname: Rosty

Date and place of birth: January 2, 1928, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

Date, place and cause of death: August 11, 2010, Lake Benedict, Wisconsin, U.S.A. (Lung cancer)

Wife: LaVerne Pirkins (m. May 12, 1951 - August 11, 2010) (his death)

Daughters: Dawn Rosten, Kristie Rosten, Gayle Rosten and Stacy Rosten

Father: Joseph P. Rostenkowski (a politician) (b. September 15, 1892, Chicago, Illinois - d. February 8, 1970)
Mother: Priscilla Rose Dombrowski* (d. June 6, 1949, of cancer)

Error corrections or clarifications

* Note: His mother's name was originally Percella, but it was later Anglicized to Priscilla.


The son of a Chicago alderman, Dan Rostenkowski, who briefly changed his last name to Rosten, attended St. John's Military Academy, in Delafield, Wisconsin (1942-46), then served in Korea with the U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division (1946-48). He continued his education at Loyola University, in Chicago, Illinois (1948-51). Dan was elected to the Illinois house of representatives in November 1951, and then served as a member of the Illinois state senate (1954-56). Rostenkowski became the youngest member of the 86th Congress following his November 1958 election to the U.S. House of Representatives. He went on to serve a total of 18-terms over 36 years (1959-1995).

He was known as "Mayor Daley's man in Congress" in his early years. Rostenkowski's Chicago political roots date back to the early 1930s when his father began serving as a Ward alderman and a ward committeeman. Joseph P. Rostenkowski served as 32nd Ward alderman from 1931 to 1955, and as ward committeeman from 1936 to 1961. This gave Dan a powerful Democratic base on which to draw, and set him up as a force in House politics from the moment the young man arrived.

He was a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means beginning in 1964. Later, as the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee (1981-1994), which writes most tax legislation, he played an important role in tax and trade policy during the Reagan-Bush years. He helped push through the 1986 tax-reform bill, which lowered taxes, and simplified the tax code. One of the most powerful members of the United States House of Representatives, Rostenkowski saw his political career collapse in 1994, when he was accused of mail fraud, wire fraud, and witness tampering.

In 1994, Rostenkowski was charged with 17 counts of corruption for misuse of public taxpayer funds. The collection of schemes allegedly cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars. Charges included witness tampering, mail fraud, and wire fraud. It was alleged that between 1978 and 1991, Congressman Rostenkowski took at least $50,000.00 in cash disguised as purchases of stamps from the House post office. Rostenkowski was also accused of a kickback scam in which he had more than a dozen individuals on his payroll, known as "ghost employees." It was alleged that those he paid for the "no-show jobs," then kicked back a portion of their salary to Dan. It was also alleged that he used approximately $40,000 in office funds to buy gifts for family and friends, as well as using $100,000 in House funds and over $70,000 in political-campaign funds to obtain cars for his personal use. The most serious of the charges was witness tampering, which carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.

As a result of the escalating corruption scandal, he lost his Congressional leadership positions. With his downfall and public humiliation, it was certainly no surprise when he lost his bid for reelection the next year. A year after losing his seat in Congress, he pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of mail fraud and was sentenced to 17 months in prison and fined $100,000.

In May 1996, Rostenkowski underwent successful prostate cancer surgery. July 22, 1996, he began serving his sentence at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) for prisoners in Rochester, Minnesota. FMC Rochester is a facility that provides medical services to male prisoners. After recovering from his cancer treatment, he was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin. The following year, the former U.S. Representative was released from the Oxford prison. With its proximity to Chicago and its more relaxed atmosphere in a minimum-security setting, the Oxford Federal Penitentiary has proven a popular temporary residence for Chicago politicians who have run afoul of the law.

Rostenkowski was pardoned in 2000 by Bill Clinton, in his infamous flurry of last-minute pardons as he left the presidency.

In the years following his release from prison, Dan acted as a political commentator, college teacher, and was president of Danross Associates, a consulting firm in legislative and governmental affairs.

Dan and his wife LaVerne celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on May 12, 2001.

December 24, 2007, his youngest daughter, Stacy Rosten-McDarrah, died of kidney disease and bladder cancer at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, Illinois.

Dan Rostenkowski died August 11, 2010, in Lake Benedict, Wisconsin, following a battle with lung cancer.

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