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Two Cook County employees get prison time in bribery scheme

Thomas Hawkins an analyst for Cook County Board Review who was arrested federal bribery charges for allegedly accepting $1500 facilitate

Thomas Hawkins, an analyst for the Cook County Board of Review who was arrested on federal bribery charges for allegedly accepting $1,500 to facilitate reducing property tax assessments on three residential properties, leaves the Dirksen Federal Building after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 19, 2014 1:55PM

Two Cook County employees who took bribes to lower property tax bills were sentenced Wednesday to two years and 18 months behind bars respectively.

Brothers Thomas Hawkins, 49, and John Racasi, 52, snagged a $1,500 bribe to use their jobs at the Cook County Board of Review to lower the taxes on three homes in 2008.

U.S. District Judge John Tharp told them they were “greedy” and “savvy” schemers who “worked the system of patronage and paybacks” for their own gain, sentencing Hawkins to two years and Racasi to 18 months in prison.

Both men were caught after a dirty Chicago cop who was working with the feds to try to limit his own jail time, Ali Haleem, secretly recorded them accepting the cash and boasting how they’d rig the property tax appeal system in return.

Tharp told them their actions “tore at the very fabric of our government” and only deepened the “cynicism” of Cook County taxpayers.

Neither Hawkins nor Racasi showed any emotion as the sentences were imposed. Both men had earlier apologized to the judge and to taxpayers.

Racasi, who once served with the Marines, said, “I knew better and I chose to do wrong... I also let down my colleagues in the Marines.”

And Hawkins — who is battling a heroin addiction — told the judge, “I made a stupid mistake and I’m embarrassed by it.”

Both men had hoped to get probation, but prosecutors urged Tharp to impose a sentence of two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years.

Though Hawkins and Racasi are small fry, their trial last year attracted wider interest because both repeatedly implicated Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios in secretly recorded conversations played for jurors, claiming he was “in cahoots” with the scam.

Berrios, who was a Board of Review commissioner at the time and who was re-elected on Wednesday as leader of the Cook County Democratic Party, angrily denied the allegations, calling them “bull----.”

Hawkins’ and Racasi’s lawyers agreed, saying the defendants were simply “blowing smoke” when they made the claims.

And prosecutors also agreed during the trial, telling jurors that Hawkins and Racasi didn’t want Berrios or their boss, Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr., to know about the bribes.

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