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Lawsuit filed to force Berrios to pay ethics fine from 2012

The Cook County Board of Ethics filed a lawsuit against Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios Friday demanding that a judge order him to pay a $10,000 fine for hiring his sister and son to work in his office.

Berrios originally had been ordered to pay the fine in 2012 after a Board of Ethics investigation into the hirings, according to the suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

Berrios hired his sister, Carmen Berrios, and son, Joseph E. “Joey” Berrios, to work at the assessor’s office just two days after he was sworn in on Dec. 6, 2010, according to the suit. They were paid $108,000 and $68,000, respectively. The board of ethics conducted an investigation shortly after and found that Berrios violated the anti-nepotism laws by hiring his sister and son, the suit said. However, Berrios has refused to pay the fine, arguing that any ethics ordinance does not apply to him, nor does the Board of Ethics have any jurisdiction over him, the suit said.

The three-count suit is seeking action to enforce the ethics ordinance against Berrios, have him pay the original $10,000 fine within 30 days of the court’s judgment and comply with the ethics board, the suit said. The lawsuit was filed by attorney David Hoffman, Chicago’s former inspector general, who had been appointed a special state’s attorney explore possible legal action against Berrios.

Representatives for the assessor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment on the suit Friday night.

Berrios’ daughter Vanessa already was working in the assessor’s office when Berrios was elected, and he promoted her when took over as assessor, giving her a $10,000-a-year raise. The ethics board ruled that even though Berrios didn’t hire her, it violates the nepotism ban for her to work for him. It recommended her firing but didn’t issue a fine in that case.

Joseph Berrios’ children in his office have gotten additional pay raises in the past year, county records show.

Vanessa Berrios now makes $75,391.68 a year, and his son’s annual salary has jumped to $73,904.48, according to the county payroll.His other daughter, Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios, has been a state representative since 2002 but suffered a landslide loss to challenger Will Guzzardi in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, despite the financial backing of her father and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Besides being assessor, Jospeh Berrios is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.