Joe Berrios’ name surfaces in bribery trial
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter October 22, 2013 8:42PM
Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios
Updated: October 23, 2013 7:37AM
They called him “Joe the boss,” an “old politician” who follows the mantra, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
And a pair of Cook County employees accused of taking bribes to lower property tax bills were secretly recorded saying Cook County Assessor and Democratic chairman Joe Berrios was “in cahoots” with the alleged scam.
Berrios hasn’t been charged with any crime, and he wasn’t in court Tuesday as hours of wiretapped conversations defendants Tommy Hawkins and John Racasi had about their alleged bribe scheme were played for a federal jury.
But he was center stage nonetheless as both defendants repeatedly implicated him in the secretly taped conversations with an undercover FBI informant.
In one, recorded Sept. 17, 2008, Hawkins, 49, boasts that he was “with Berrios... having lettuce salads” — code, the feds say, that the defendants used for accepting cash bribes.
In another, recorded Sept. 11, 2008, Hawkins was recorded explaining that he planned to bypass “red tape” on an allegedly corrupt property tax appeal by going “straight to Berrios and get a signature.”
“You know, with the lettuce, say here you go, man — sign this. Put this through right away,” Hawkins was taped saying.
Racasi, 52, then told the undercover informant that he and Hawkins would “take care of” Berrios.
The allegations date to a time when Berrios served as a commissioner at the Cook County Board of Review, which hears tax appeals. Hawkins and Racasi worked for another commissioner, Larry Rogers Jr., but Hawkins was taped saying of Berrios, “This his baby, you know. This the way he makin’ his money at.”
And in another Sept. 17, 2008, conversation, Hawkins told the undercover informant that Berrios would run for and be elected Cook County assessor — a prediction that came true in 2010.
Once Berrios became assessor and had the power to set property tax bills, Hawkins was taped saying, “Joe’s gonna get paid double.
“He’s gonna get paid for raising the taxes and then lower, cause you can lower from the assessor’s office too.”
Berrios did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday night. He has steadfastly defended hiring relatives despite ongoing and repeated accusations of nepotism.
Hawkins and Racasi’s trial is due to continue Wednesday, when their attorneys should get the chance to cross examine disgraced former Chicago cop Ali Haleem, the undercover informant who made the wiretapped recordings.
Both men deny wrongdoing.