THE WATCHDOGS: Deadbeat judge — hounded by IRS, making $190,258 a year
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Cook County Circuit Judge Tommy Brewer is being hounded by the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS has slapped Brewer with seven liens — two filed as recently as last year — seeking payment of a total of $227,559 in personal income taxes while Brewer was an attorney in private practice between 1997 and 2010, the year the Illinois Supreme Court appointed him to a vacant seat on the Cook County bench.
“I’m a good guy,” the judge says. “I’m not trying to cheat anybody out of anything. I’m trying to battle them as I can. I’m not saying I don’t owe them anything. I thought I owed them about $50,000 . . . I pay my tax religiously.
“They’re just claiming that I didn’t file,” says Brewer, who’s among thousands of Cook County residents and businesses the state or federal government have gone after since 1985 for unpaid taxes, court fines or restitution in criminal cases. “In the later years, they say I didn’t pay enough. So I went out and hired an accountant. He suggested I start paying them. I have an installment agreement with them. I’m paying them a pretty penny.”
Brewer, 64, is paid $190,258 a year as a judge, and, since his appointment, Illinois taxpayers have paid him a total of $883,285.
His tax problems began more than a decade ago. The IRS filed its first lien against him in 2004, seeking $70,482 in income taxes for 1997, 1999 and 2000. And the liens kept mounting as Brewer made several failed attempts to get elected Cook County’s sheriff or state’s attorney.
The IRS had filed five liens against Brewer, seeking to collect more than $207,000 in income taxes, when he landed a judicial appointment from the Supreme Court in November 2010. It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court justices were aware of Brewer’s tax problems, though he regularly discloses his IRS debts on the statements of economic interest he files each year with the clerk of the Supreme Court.
The two liens the IRS filed last year against Brewer are for another $79,969 in income taxes owed from 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010.
Brewer and the other Cook County residents and businesses the state and federal governments have gone after collectively owed hundreds of millions of dollars, according to 464,000 liens the IRS and other agencies have filed with the Cook County recorder of deeds since 1985.
It’s impossible to calculate the exact amount they owe. Many are paying down their debts, but the liens for the total amount remain in place until the entire debt is paid. Others might have paid off their debts, but either the government or debtors haven’t filed the documents showing the debt has been settled.
And in some cases, the taxpayers have died, such as convicted mob hitman Frank Calabrese Sr. He died in prison three years ago, but records show he owes the federal government $2.6 million of the $7.4 million in restitution he was ordered to pay after a jury in the landmark Operation Family Secrets trial found him guilty of killing seven people.
Still, the database of government liens obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times contains a trove of well-known debtors: athletes, politicians, prominent business owners and lawyers, as well as people convicted of high-profile crimes ranging from political corruption to murder.
• Neil Hartigan, the former Illinois attorney general who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1990, has spent the past decade battling the IRS over more than $1.1 million in income taxes.
Hartigan, 77, says his tax problems began after he decided to personally bankroll a proposed World Trade Center in River North, a project that never got off the ground. Hartigan says he cashed in his savings, including individual retirement accounts, which left him with a huge tax liability.
“I got this very substantial problem,” Hartigan says. “Not only did I lose my savings to try to save the trade center, but I had this tax bill. I had to go through bankruptcy. I lost everything. I gave [the IRS] everything I had.”
Since 2006, the IRS filed five liens against Hartigan, aiming to collect more than $850,000. Also, the Illinois Department of Revenue filed a lien against him for $6,151 in income taxes.
Hartigan has paid off his state debt. And he says he’s whittled down the federal liens, one of which the IRS has released. The IRS has taken a substantial share of Hartigan’s state pension, which pays him $101,198 a year, as well as taking a small portion of his Social Security checks, court records show.
“I’ve been working the IRS over a period of years,” says Hartigan, who lives in Rogers Park. “I’m almost finished with the thing.”
• Leslie Walgreen, whose great-grandfather founded what’s now one of the world’s largest pharmacy chains, got in trouble with the IRS after spending his fortune bankrolling a company that created websites.
“I took loans against my Walgreen stock to grow my company,” Walgreen says. “All of a sudden, the market crashes, and I lost everything. I’m, like, broke.”
Four years ago, the IRS filed a lien against Walgreen for $1,566,434 it said he owed in income taxes from 2008. But his accountant got the IRS to slash that to $46.48, according to documents Walgreen provided. Walgreen says he paid the $46.48, though the IRS hasn’t released the lien. The IRS won’t discuss Walgreen’s case or anyone else’s.
A week after Walgreen’s documents show the IRS slashed his tax debt, the IRS filed another lien against him, this one for $53,856 in income taxes from 2009. That debt remains unpaid.
“I have been rebuilding my life,” says Walgreen, 47, who now owns just one share in the company that bears his name, allowing him to attend board meetings. “And, once I can, I will pay it.”
• Steve McMichael, a defensive tackle for the 1985 Chicago Bears team that won the Super Bowl, ran afoul of the IRS after he retired from football and became a professional wrestler. Nine years ago, the IRS filed a lien against McMichael for $522,877 in income taxes for 1999 and 2000.
“I worked out a payment plan,” McMichael says. “I pay $200 a month. That was a lot cheaper for me to do it this way. It’s just like a credit card. I’m paying on those, too. Everybody can understand that.”
• Rev. Corey Brooks, the “rooftop pastor” of New Beginnings Church who pitched a tent on the roof of a dilapidated South Side motel for three months in 2011 to raise money to tear down the building, got slapped by the IRS with a lien for $42,833 in income taxes.during the time he was camped out on the roof. Brooks has paid the debt, but the IRS filed two more liens against him last year for $48,385 in income taxes from 2012 and 2013.
“I was audited,” says Brooks, who was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in July to a $31,426-a-year, part-time post on the board overseeing the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. “We had a dispute about what was owed. I’ve always paid my taxes.”
Brooks’ accountant says the pastor has been trying to work out a payment plan with the IRS.
• Joseph Mario Moreno, now serving an 11-year prison term for soliciting bribes from a hospital supply company while he was a member of the Cook County Board, had a lien filed against him last year by the Justice Department, seeking $134,192 in restitution.
Moreno’s ex-wife Nancy is fighting federal prosecutors who are trying to seize part of his Cook County pension and other assets to pay the debt.
Over the past few years, prosecutors have stepped up their efforts to collect fines and restitution owed to the federal government and crime victims. The U.S. attorney’s financial litigation unit in Chicago collected more than $61.6 million during the past two fiscal years, spokesman Joseph Fitzpatrick says.
Still, more than $3.8 billion in remains uncollected from federal restitution orders issued against residents of Cook County and other counties in the federal court system’s Northern District of Illinois, according to the Justice Department.
• A $64.3 million lien against Peter Rogan, the longtime owner and chief executive officer of now-closed Edgewater Hospital, over what federal authorities have called a massive Medicare fraud. Rogan pleaded guilty last month to perjury in the case.
• A $7.5 million lien against mobster Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo, now serving a life sentence after being convicted in the Family Secrets case.
• A $4.4 million lien against convicted fraudster Daniel T. Frawley, a former business partner of Tony Rezko, the convicted influence-peddler who was a key campaign fund-raiser for imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.