Working the Story: Mansions, toilets and tax breaks

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Toilets were removed and lined up in a Gold Coast mansion owned by J.B. Pritzker just 10 days before the house (shown right) was inspected for an appraisal as part of the property tax appeals process. | Cook County Inspector General

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that Democrat J.B. Pritzker bought a historic mansion next door to his own on the city’s Gold Coast, let it fall into disrepair — and then argued it was “uninhabitable” to win nearly $230,000 in property tax breaks.

The toilets had been disconnected, and the home had “no functioning bathrooms or kitchen,” according to documents Pritzker’s lawyers filed with Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios.

How the Pritzker ‘game of thrones’ came to light

In this edition of “Working the Story,” Chicago Sun-Times investigative reporter Tim Novak and political reporter Tina Sfondeles talk with columnist Mary Mitchell about how the Sun-Times learned of the tax appeal in early 2017, then continued to question the property tax break once J.B. Pritzker entered the governor’s race in April 2017.

This month, the Cook County inspector general concluded that it was a “scheme to defraud.”

Novak says several questions remain, including why Pritzker bought the neighboring mansion to begin with and why the appraiser was not allowed inside either home.

Pritzker promised to pay the money back (the tax break actually ended up saving him $330,000, according to the inspector general), but he didn’t make that promise until the scandal became front-and-center in the governor’s race.

Pritzker and incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner are locked in a high-rolling advertising duel.

In this video, we discuss:

  • When Novak realized this could be a story.
  • Why it took so long to investigate the original tip.
  • Why the inspector general’s report is marked confidential.
  • What’s different about this property tax appeal.

“Working the Story” is a video feature of the Chicago Sun-Times that explores how our reporters do their jobs.


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