Former Board of Review worker who took bribes for tax breaks gets 3 months behind bars
Danilo Barjaktarevic admitted he offered to have property assessments lowered in exchange for bribes of $2,000 for commercial property and $1,000 for residential property.
The photograph could have come straight out of a movie about old-school, Chicago-style corruption: A veteran employee of the Cook County Board of Review, thumbing through a pile of cash he had purportedly taken as a bribe to help lower someone’s property taxes.
Danilo “Danny B” Barjaktarevic told a federal judge Tuesday that the FBI investigation that led to that photograph didn’t “portray me as a person.” Rather, he said he had a “weak moment” when he took $43,000 in bribes. And, he said, “I am ashamed of myself.”
U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman responded by telling Barjaktarevic he committed a crime that “goes to the heart of what people have as the American dream.” And it “struck at the trust that people have” when they pay their property tax bills.
But in the end, Coleman sentenced Barjaktarevic to a relatively light three months in jail for that crime. Federal sentencing guidelines suggested he could have gone to prison for more than two years.
Coleman also ordered Barjaktarevic to serve 100 hours of community service at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Barjaktarevic’s sentencing hearing at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse capped a saga that began in July 2021, when the Chicago Sun-Times obtained an FBI affidavit that detailed the investigation into Barjaktarevic — and contained the photo of Barjaktarevic thumbing through cash.
The Sun-Times’ reporting prompted the Board of Review to hire the high-profile law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila to look into the allegations, including Barjaktarevic’s claim to a federal informant that others at the Board of Review were involved.
Federal prosecutors now say Barjaktarevic was lying when he said he would split the money with others.
“He was pocketing all of it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Peabody told the judge Tuesday. “He knew it was wrong and he did it for the money.”
Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila said its investigation was stymied when Barjaktarevic refused to be interviewed and claimed he forgot the passcode to his county-issued cellphone. The firm was hired through contracts worth up to $150,000.
Defense attorney Matthew McQuaid told Coleman that Barjaktarevic has already lost his job with the Board of Review, and he will also lose his pension. He suggested Barjaktarevic engaged in the scheme because he was living above his means and needed the money.
Still, prosecutors have previously said that Barjaktarevic took bribes before, including a $1,000 payment from one taxpayer in January 2021 and a $1,500 “putative payment” from another in spring 2021.
Barjaktarevic admitted last year that he had agreed, in January 2021, to help the feds’ informant have assessments lowered for 25 pieces of property. They purportedly belonged to an associate of the informant.
Assessments are a key factor in calculating property tax bills.
Barjaktarevic explained that the rate for lowering the assessments would be $2,000 for each commercial property, and $1,000 for each residential property, for a total cost of $43,000 in bribes. Half would be due upfront, and the other half later.
The pair met in a Skokie parking lot in January 2021, and the informant delivered $21,000 to Barjaktarevic, records show. That was the moment allegedly depicted in the photograph of Barjaktarevic.
Then, in May 2021, Barjaktarevic sent the informant an email with the status of the property assessment appeals.
But the informant’s associate still owed another $22,000. The informant suggested delaying the payment, but the FBI affidavit said Barjaktarevic complained that he’d spoken to his colleagues and “got my f---ing head chewed off.”
“They said, ‘We made a deal. We proved to him that we’re [re]liable,’” Barjaktarevic allegedly said. “He goes, ‘They already accounted for that money for their vacations and s---.’”
So the informant promised to deliver the money before the Fourth of July holiday and set up a meeting with Barjaktarevic on July 1, 2021, records show. The feds filed their affidavit June 30, 2021, seeking a judge’s permission to search Barjaktarevic and his phone.
Then, when Barjaktarevic met the informant, Barjaktarevic accepted the second payment of $22,000, according to his plea agreement.