Two former Cook County assessor’s employees charged in bribery scheme

Golf outings worth nearly $3,500 were exchanged for property tax reassessments that lowered valuations on two properties by about $81,000, federal prosecutors say.

SHARE Two former Cook County assessor’s employees charged in bribery scheme
Two employees in the Cook County Assessor’s Office have been charged in an alleged bribery scheme.

Two employees in the Cook County Assessor’s Office have been charged in an alleged bribery scheme.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Two former Cook County assessor’s office employees and the owner of a Chicago Heights fencing company are facing federal charges in an alleged 2017 bribery scheme in which golf outings, drinks and food were exchanged for lower property tax assessments.

Robert Mitziga, owner of Fence Masters Inc., worked with Basilio Clausen — a Crown Point, Indiana, business owner and a former assessor’s office residential field inspector — and Lumni Likovski, then-director of taxpayer services for the assessor’s office, to bribe employees at the office for lowered assessments on Mitziga’s and Clausen’s properties, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Lavdim Memisovki, a former commercial group leader for the assessor’s office, was also allegedly part of the scheme, though prosecutors charged him last July in a separate case.

In early 2017, Mitziga and an unnamed individual offered to pay for a golf outing for Clausen and other assessor’s office employees. Clausen then brought the offer to Likovski and Memisovski, who agreed to lower the appealed assessments themselves, working around the assessor’s office’s random assignment system, according to their indictment.

After the first trip, Clausen left the unnamed individual a voicemail saying the appeals were “not going to be an issue at all,” prosecutors said. The assessor’s office employees were later taken on a second trip.

Mitziga, 65, and the unnamed individual split the costs of two golf outings, which totaled about $3,500, in exchange for Mitziga’s assessment being reduced by nearly $28,000, while the unnamed individual had assessments reduced by about $53,000, prosecutors said.

Before the new assessments were returned, Mitziga asked for a bigger cut on his taxes because he had paid $114 more for the golf outings than the unnamed individual.

“Oh s—-, make sure [Memisovski] gives me a better deal than he gets [unnamed individual],” Mitziga allegedly said in a call with Clausen. “I’m paying for more of this stuff.”

Likovski, who worked in the county agency for more than 20 years, was paid nearly $110,000 in 2019, more than 87% of county assessor employees, according to an Illinois Answers database.

He was suspended from his position at the assessor’s office after officials in the agency said they were blindsided by the charges. Clausen resigned in December.

The office also said that Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi had instituted a new two-step approval system for appealed assessments, and said it would prevent situations like this from happening again, though wouldn’t go into detail about the process.

“The assessor’s office will continue to cooperate with federal authorities in any ongoing matters and take all appropriate action to ensure the office maintains its high standard of ethics,” representatives for the office wrote in a statement to the Sun-Times on Sunday.

The three have been charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud. They each face five to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

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