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