Board of Review hired law firm to investigate bribery allegations — but when will public see its report?

Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP agreed to draft a “PowerPoint presentation and a comprehensive written report outlining the findings of the investigation.”

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A Cook County Board of Review employee 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 employee and has pixelated his face; he is not charged.

A Cook County Board of Review employee 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 employee and has pixelated his face; he is not charged.

U.S. District Court records

The Cook County Board of Review hired a high-profile Chicago law firm last year through a contract worth up to $110,000 to look into alleged bribery in the county office — but it’s unclear when the public will get to see the results of the firm’s work.

The investigative services contract between the Board of Review and Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP was signed in early September, two months after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the FBI had been investigating a Board of Review employee.

That employee allegedly used his position to have property assessments lowered in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash bribes. Assessments are a key factor in calculating property tax bills. The employee allegedly said the money would be split with others in the office and insisted “I’m just the middle guy.”

Those allegations appeared in a 45-page FBI affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times while it was publicly available on the U.S. District Court docket last summer. It has since been placed under seal. No related criminal charges appear to have been filed in the months since, and the Sun-Times is not naming the employee because he has not been criminally charged.

A source with knowledge of the federal investigation said it is ongoing. The employee has not responded to messages seeking comment.

The contract between the Board of Review and Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila, obtained by the Sun-Times through the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the deal took effect Sept. 8 and is set to conclude by March 7. The firm agreed to interview Board of Review employees and collect and review documents “regarding the allegations in the Sun-Times article.”

It agreed to draft a “PowerPoint presentation and a comprehensive written report outlining the findings of the investigation.” And it said it would represent the Board of Review “in communications with federal authorities” related to the allegations.

The contract names Patricia Brown Holmes, managing partner at the firm and a former federal prosecutor, as the county’s principal contact for the contract. Reached earlier this week by the Sun-Times, Holmes declined to discuss the investigation, calling it “a client matter.”

William O’Shields, chief deputy commissioner for the Board of Review, said the board is still expecting a PowerPoint or written report from the firm. And he confirmed it is due by the end of the contract’s term on March 7 “unless something changes.”

Asked whether the report would be made public, O’Shields initially said, “I can’t definitively tell you that.”

“There is also an ongoing federal investigation,” O’Shields said. “And so, one of the challenges with our internal investigation is that we can’t compromise that ongoing federal investigation.”

O’Shields contacted the Sun-Times late Thursday, following publication of this story online, and said, “the board will definitely release the report. However, if the federal investigation has not been concluded, said release cannot compromise that investigation.”

O’Shields did not commit to a timeline for the report’s release, though. Federal public corruption investigations and prosecutions can take years to complete.

The Board of Review employee at the center of the feds’ investigation allegedly offered to have property assessments lowered for bribes — $2,000 for every commercial property; $1,000 for every residential property.

The worker allegedly made arrangements to meet a cooperating witness on July 1 to collect $22,000 as part of the scheme. The feds filed their affidavit on June 30, seeking a judge’s permission to search the Board of Review employee and his phone.

O’Shields said the employee is on paid leave.

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