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Real estate experts say Prizker’s toilet troubles could be criminal

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Wednesday, October 3, 2018  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach

Candidates--Statewide (12) , Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Taxes, property (87)
Real estate experts say J.B. Pritzker, Democrat candidate for Illinois governor, may have some serious legal problems stemming from a leaked report outlining how he allegedly manipulated Cook County’s tax system to lower his property tax bill.

The leaked report from Cook County’s top watchdog revisits how the Chicago billionaire got tax breaks totaling more than $300,000 by ripping out the toilets and altering other parts of one of his Gold Coast mansions shortly before having it deemed uninhabitable by a private appraiser.

Pritzker told reporters Monday that the leak is politically motivated, having been released the month before election day, but said he would comply with any recommendations.

“We’re gonna follow whatever the recommendations are, whatever it is,” he said.

The report contains a subpoenaed email from one contractor to another telling them Pritzker’s wife wants the home made uninhabitable before an appraisal.

“MK [Pritzker’s wife] is now getting back into the task of cleaning up 1431 N. Astor,” read an email from a contractor to another. “She is going to have the house reassessed as an uninhabitable structure. To do this, she would like to have us pull all toilets and cap all toilet lines in the house. Then, after the assessment, she would like us to put the first floor toilet back in and have this as the one functioning bathroom in the place.”

The report by Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard concluded that Pritzker was involved in a scheme that included “obtaining money by means of false representations and, in executing the scheme, the responsible parties caused checks to be issued by the Cook County Treasurer and delivered by U.S. Mail according to the direction thereon.”

Richard Hagar, senior residential appraiser with the Appraisal Institute and an expert witness in a number of appraisal lawsuits, says the report outlines a classic case of fraud.

“That appraisal will be used by a government agency to make a decision. That is equal to lying to that government agency,” he said, adding that the evidence of multiple entities acting together to willfully deceive a government entity is possibly a breach of federal conspiracy laws.

“If these other people are aware of the goal, a good prosecutor, I would think, have a case for a conspiracy,” he said.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not respond to requests for comment about whether either of their offices would investigate.

Pritzker's campaign would not respond to requests for comment on the feasibility of the report amounting to criminal charges. 

Nathan J. Noble, a real estate attorney based in Belvidere, says the law prohibits a property tax reduction if the structure has purposefully been rendered uninhabitable.

"It certainly is questionable whether the portion of the premises was 'rendered' uninhabitable - as the statute contemplates 'by accidental means' or rendered reasonably uninhabitable by a legitimate remodel as opposed to a fabricated controlled effort to render an otherwise uncondemnable property uninhabitable – when apparently someone was ordered to remove all plumbing fixtures and appliances from the property," he said, adding that there may be exceptions hidden in Illinois' laws on the matter.

"There seems to be nothing accidental about how this home became uninhabitable."