Democratic gubernatorial nominee J.B. Pritzker has steadfastly defended the $330,000 property tax break he got in part by disabling the toilets in a Gold Coast mansion he owns — but on Tuesday the billionaire vowed to refund the money to taxpayers.
The surprise announcement comes just one day after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Cook County inspector general has concluded the property tax break was part of a “scheme to defraud.”
Pritzker’s use of the tax break, uncovered by the Sun-Times last year, has dogged him since he launched his run for governor. Gov. Bruce Rauner has aired television commercials lampooning Pritzker as the “Porcelain Prince” and blasted the tactic in speeches and in their first face-to-face debate last month.
“A man who ripped toilets out of his Chicago mansion to dodge his property taxes won’t work to reduce your taxes,” Rauner said in a speech last month. “What sort of person would do that? His behavior shows him to be a person utterly lacking in the integrity and character we need in public office.”
On Tuesday, former Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady joined the chorus of Republicans ridiculing Pritzker, holding a news conference outside the Democrat’s mansion, complete with prop toilets.
After the Sun-Times disclosed the findings in Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard’s confidential report on Monday, Pritzker again defended his actions.
“I’ve been saying all along that there are flaws in the property tax system,” Pritzker said Monday. “We followed the rules.”
But Pritzker also hinted then that he would refund the money if county officials followed Blanchard’s recommendation to seek to recover it.
Asked whether he would repay his tax savings, Pritzker said Monday afternoon, “We’re going to follow whatever the recommendations, whatever it is.”
But Pritzker apparently decided not to wait for county officials to take any action.
His campaign officials confirmed Tuesday that the candidate was reversing course and would repay the money. And they blasted Brady for his campaign event and tried to change the subject to Rauner.
“This is a politically leaked report without new information,” said Galia Slayen, a Pritzker campaign spokeswoman. “Instead of standing outside of JB Pritzker’s home, Pat Brady should be calling for an investigation into Sterigenics, a company Bruce Rauner owned that is emitting high levels of cancer-causing air pollution that is poisoning Illinois families. It’s time for Rauner to release all relevant Sterigenics records so that we can provide answers to the thousands of families who have been exposed to this poison.”
Rauner’s campaign was not impressed by Pritzker’s reversal.
“A bank robber who gives the money back is still a bank robber,” Rauner campaign spokesman Will Allison said. “Pritzker’s offer to pay back the money he conned out of Illinois taxpayers is nothing less than an admission of guilt that he committed fraud.”
The Sun-Times reported in May 2017 that Pritzker bought the historic mansion next door to his home, let it fall into disrepair — and then argued it was “uninhabitable” to win nearly $230,000 in property tax breaks.
Blanchard’s Sept. 28 report found Pritzker actually saved more — $331,432.03.
The inspector general wrote in the report that the Cook County assessor’s office was “the victim of sworn affidavits containing false representations” in the Pritzker property tax reassessment.
“The evidence indicates that the use of these affidavits was part of a scheme for obtaining money by means of false representations and, in executing the scheme, the responsible parties caused checks to be issued by the Cook County Treasurer and delivered by U.S. Mail according to the direction thereon.
“As a result, the County ultimately fell victim to a scheme to defraud, executed in part through the use of affidavits, and which resulted in the property owner ultimately receiving property tax refunds totaling $132,747.18 for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as additional tax savings of $198,684.85 for the years 2015 and 2016,” the report states.