Ex-Board of Review worker admits taking bribes for tax breaks, faces 2.5 years in prison
Danilo Barjaktarevic told a judge Friday he was “really sorry that I did it … I lost the trust of my co-workers … and my family … I hurt everybody.” The Chicago Sun-Times revealed last year the worker was under investigation by the FBI.
A longtime Cook County Board of Review worker pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge Friday, more than a year after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed he was under investigation by the FBI for lowering property assessments in exchange for cash.
Danilo “Danny B” Barjaktarevic, 49, faces a likely prison sentence of up to two and a half years under federal sentencing guidelines. His sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 13.
He is no longer employed with the Board of Review, according to his attorney.
Barjaktarevic’s plea agreement anticipates he will repay $21,000 he received during the investigation. The document also indicates he lied when he claimed that others at the Board of Review helped him lower assessments for bribes.
The criminal case against Barjaktarevic remained under seal on the court docket Friday morning when he entered his plea during an open hearing before U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman.
The case was unsealed later in the day, and the records revealed Barjaktarevic was first charged April 28.
Just before Friday’s hearing ended, Barjaktarevic told the judge he was “really sorry that I did it … I lost the trust of my co-workers … and my family … I hurt everybody.”
After the hearing, his lawyer Matthew McQuaid said Barjaktarevic “accepted responsibility for what he did. We’re moving forward with the sentencing. He’s remorseful for what he did.”
The Board of Review hired the high-profile law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila through a contract worth up to $110,000 to look into the accusations in the exclusive Sun-Times report. Last week, the firm reported its work had been stymied when Barjaktarevic refused to be interviewed and said he forgot the passcode to his county-issued cellphone.
The firm also reported finding a “strong compliance culture at the Board of Review.”
A 45-page FBI affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times showed Barjaktarevic claimed he was “just the middle guy” and that certain colleagues had factored the cash he was collecting into vacation plans.
The Sun-Times obtained the affidavit while it was publicly available on the U.S. District Court docket in 2021. It has since been sealed.
Barjaktarevic offered to have property assessments lowered for bribes — $2,000 for every commercial property and $1,000 for every residential property. Assessments are a key factor in calculating property tax bills.
The federal probe dates to at least January 2019 and involves an unnamed individual who was secretly cooperating with the feds and was separately under criminal investigation, according to the affidavit.
Federal authorities filed the affidavit June 30, 2021, seeking a judge’s permission to search Barjaktarevic and his phone.
The cooperator broached the idea of having property assessments lowered for an associate of his on July 13, 2020, according to the affidavit. His conversations with Barjaktarevic eventually resulted in him sending property index numbers by email for 18 commercial properties and seven residential properties on Jan. 5, 2021.
Barjaktarevic told the cooperator in a phone call later that day “everything’s doable,” records show. He said, “On these commercial pieces … they want $2K apiece … ’cause then it gets split up between everybody,” according to the affidavit.
For residential properties, he allegedly said “it’s, uh, a grand apiece.”
“Half now and half when it’s completed,” Barjaktarevic said, later agreeing on $21,000 for the first half, authorities said.
The cooperator delivered the money to Barjaktarevic in a Skokie parking lot later that month, according to the affidavit.
The cooperator said, “Sorry it’s not a little bit more organized, brother, but count it.”
Barjaktarevic replied, “I ain’t gonna count it … I’ll count it when I get home,” records show.
A photo of Barjaktarevic holding the money also appeared in the affidavit.
Barjaktarevic suggested his cut would be $250 per property, and his colleagues would get the rest, saying, “I’m gonna get outta this one, 250’s f---ing my cut. Which, f--- it. I don’t give a f---. I’m just the middle guy pushing.”
Barjaktarevic sent the cooperator the new assessments in May of that year. Then, when the two talked the following month, the cooperator said he had told his associate, “You saved $99,000, around $99,059, somewhere in that range,” according to the affidavit.
But the associate still owed another $22,000, the document said. After the cooperator suggested delaying the payment, Barjaktarevic allegedly said he spoke 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 on June 9, 2021. “He goes, ‘They already accounted for that money for their vacations and s---.’”
On June 10, 2021, the cooperator sent Barjaktarevic a phone message that read, “All good for the 22. I’ll have it before the holiday.”
Then, on June 22, 2021, he sent a message asking if they could meet July 1, 2021, according to the feds.
“That’s fine see you on the 1st,” Barjaktarevic allegedly replied.
When they met, Barjaktarevic accepted that second payment of $22,000, according to his plea agreement.