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Board of Review benches employee who allegedly took bribes for property tax breaks

Commissioners of the county agency called the alleged bribery scheme “abhorrent” and said they “are committed to fully cooperating” with the ongoing federal investigation. 

A Cook County Board of Review official allegedly counts thousands of dollars in bribe money for lowering property assessments, according to a photograph attached to a federal affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times is not naming the official and has pixelated his face; he is not charged.
A Cook County Board of Review official allegedly counts thousands of dollars in bribe money for lowering property assessments, according to a photograph attached to a federal affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times is not naming the official and has pixelated his face; he is not charged.
Federal affidavit from U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago

The Cook County Board of Review has placed an employee on administrative leave after a federal court affidavit revealed he allegedly took thousands of dollars in cash bribes to lower property tax assessments.

In a statement issued Friday evening, leaders of the agency responsible for reviewing assessments said they “immediately took action” to bench the worker, revoke his access to board technology and “protect potential evidence.”

Board of Review commissioners Larry Rogers Jr., Michael Cabonargi and Tammy Wendt said they “are committed to fully cooperating” with the ongoing federal investigation.

“The allegations against this employee are abhorrent. They are not only illegal, but put an unfair and undeserved stain on the hundreds of honest and ethical Board employees that have worked hard to help the citizens of Cook County,” their joint statement read.

The alleged bribery scheme was revealed in an affidavit obtained last week by the Chicago Sun-Times.

It outlined an FBI probe dating back to at least January 2019, involving an unnamed individual who was secretly cooperating with the feds and is the subject of a separate criminal investigation.

That cooperating witness allegedly met the Board of Review employee in a Skokie parking lot earlier this year to hand off $21,000 as the first half of payment to lower assessments on 18 commercial properties and seven residential properties.

A lower assessment means a lower property tax bill. The going rate to lower assessments was allegedly $2,000 per commercial property and $1,000 for residential.

“I’m just the middle guy,” the agency worker allegedly told the cooperating witness, insisting the proceeds would be split with an unspecified number of colleagues at the Board of Review.

The feds’ affidavit included a photo of the employee holding the cash. “I’m gonna get outta this one, 250’s f---ing my cut,” he allegedly said. “Which, f--- it. I don’t give a f---. I’m just the middle guy pushing.”

Sources at the board said the employee at the center of the feds’ probe had, since 1995, been a member of the administrative clerk’s staff, which has no signing authority in the review process.

The Sun-Times, which is not naming him because records show he has not been criminally charged, obtained the affidavit while it was publicly available on the court docket. It has since been sealed.

The U.S. Attorney’s office has declined to comment on the investigation.