An obscure footnote — No 41 — may turnout most important in J.B Prtitzker’s property tax problem.
As initially reported by the Sun-Times, the Cook County Inspector General, Patrick Blanchard, issued a report on September 28 concluding that more than $330,000 in property tax breaks and refunds that Pritzker received on one of his Gold Coast mansions — in part by removing toilets — constituted a “scheme to defraud.”
Blanchard’s full report is linked here.
The presumption is that neither the Cook County State’s Attorney nor the Illinois Attorney General would pursue the fraud charges. (They’re both Democrats and this is Illinois.)
And that’s where footnote 41 comes in. It specifies potential federal illegalities — mail fraud and conspiracy — that potentially could be prosecuted by the United States Attorney. Blanchard’s office knows its stuff on these things. Its staff includes very competent, former FBI types.
It’s unknown whether Blanchard’s office referred the matter to the Feds for prosecution. However, the Illinois Republican Congressional delegation has now asked the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois to take a look.
I defer to lawyers more knowledgeable in the field, but it looks to me like one question is “who?” That is, is Pritzker tied closely enough to this that any criminal prosecution could be directed at him? He is not the one who signed the allegedly false affidavits described in the report. Was that person Pritzker’s agent, acting with his knowledge or under his direction? The report seems to indicate that his wife initiated the idea of rendering the property uninhabitable.
If there’s any prosecution, it certainly does not appear charges could be brought before the election. Even if they were, they would not automatically knock Pritzker off the ballot. My understanding is that only his withdrawal or death at least 15 days prior to the election would take him off the ballot, in which case his party’s central committee would select a replacement.
Maybe nobody will care under any circumstances. The most recent polls show Pritzker up by 22% (and, again, this being Illinois, ethical issues aren’t exactly paramount).
Pritzker has now agreed to return the $331K in taxes.
Finally, Greg Hinz asks a good question in his article today: Who leaked the report and why? It went to only five people: outgoing County Assessor Joe Berrios, who set the tax assessment on the Astor Street house; County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who mailed refund checks to Pritzker’s agents; and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and two of her top aides. “Someone in that group had to leak the report. Blanchard, Pappas and Preckwinkle say it wasn’t them, and there’s good reason to think that Berrios hadn’t even read it yet. But the damaging report came out just a month to a day before the election, and as one top political insider puts it, ‘Things like this don’t happen in Chicago by accident.'”
–Mark Glennon is founder and Executive Editor of Wirepoints.