Billionaire Democrat Illinois Governor 'Under Federal Criminal Investigation'
Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, his wife and brother-in-law probed for tax dodge
Illinois' billionaire Democratic Governor JB Pritzker is under federal criminal investigation over allegations of a property tax dodge, according to reports.
The probe into Democrat Gov. Pritzker began last October and remains active, a law-enforcement source "familiar with the investigation" reportedly told local news outlet WBEZ.
The investigation has not been made public until now, but there are still no signs that criminal charges are imminent.
Christine Lovely, the Illinois First Lady MK Pritzker’s personal assistant who was involved in the property tax appeal, is being represented by one of Chicago’s most prominent attorneys, according to WBEZ.
Her lawyer, Reid Schar, helped convict ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges during his time as a former federal prosecutor.
The developments suggest that the billionaire governor and his wife may face a serious legal threat arising over the controversial property tax break on a 126-year-old mansion they purchased near to their Gold Coast home.
A Cook County inspector general’s report, first published by the Chicago Sun-Times, later found MK Pritzker directed workers to remove all toilets from the mansion in order to have it declared “uninhabitable,” which gave the Pritzkers a huge property tax break.
The report also found that Lovely and the governor’s brother-in-law, Thomas J. Muenster, made “false representations” on tax appeal documents.
According to WBEZ, the county watchdog said all of that amounted to a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers out of more than $331,000.
In a statement, JB and MK Pritzker's lawyer, Marc Elias, denied his clients engaged in any wrongdoing.
“Neither the Governor nor the First Lady have been contacted by law enforcement regarding the property tax appeal,” said Elias, a partner with the Perkins Coie law firm, which has done extensive legal work on behalf of Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign.
“We are confident that any further review of the matter will show that the appropriate rules were followed.”
‘A scheme to defraud’
A little more than three months into his governorship, the most serious campaign issue confronting Pritzker last fall appeared to have gone dormant.
The property tax scandal picked up steam just a month before the November 2018 gubernatorial election, when the Chicago Sun-Times published news of a confidential memo from Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard.
The report found the Pritzkers had caused the residence they had purchased next to their home to fall into disrepair, in part, by removing its toilets in October 2015 in order to lower the home’s property taxes by having it declared “vacant and uninhabitable.”
On that basis, the Pritzkers’ lawyers persuaded then-Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios’ office to lower the home’s market value from more than $6.25 million to slightly less than $1.08 million. That ultimately led to a dramatically lower property tax bill for the mansion.
According to the report, MK Pritzker had ordered workers to reinstall one working toilet after the house was reassessed at a lower rate, though it’s unclear whether that happened.
Furthermore, the report found that Muenster, MK Pritzker’s brother, and Lovely, her personal assistant, made “false representations” on tax appeal affidavits when they declared the home had been without functioning bathrooms for years before the 2015 toilet removals.
That resulted in more than $132,000 in property tax refunds for 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Combined with future tax relief as a result of the lower assessed value, the Pritzkers gained more than $331,000 from the county.
The confidential Sept. 28, 2018 report by the inspector general characterized the Pritzkers’ tax appeal as a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers.
Blanchard also connected the scheme to possible violations of state and federal law, including perjury and mail fraud.
Elias, the Pritzkers’ lawyer, is one of the most recognized legal names in national Democratic Party circles.
He served as general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and to the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry.
Elias’ law firm has billed Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign fund nearly $1.5 million for legal services, including more than $618,000 since the property tax appeal controversy surfaced last October, state campaign records show.
But publicly available records don’t make clear how much, if any, of those campaign expenditures related to matters surrounding the property tax appeal case.