Two tax appeals board analysts charged with taking bribe
BY MATT MCKINNEY Chicago Sun-Times email@example.com July 18, 2012 1:38PM
John Racasi (left) and Thomas Hawkins, analysts for the Cook County Board of Review who were arrested on federal bribery charges for allegedly accepting $1,500 to facilitate reducing property tax assessments on three residential properties, leave the Dirksen Federal Building after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:49AM
Two analysts working for Cook County’s tax appeals board were arrested and charged Wednesday with accepting a $1,500 bribe in exchange for greasing the wheels to slash property taxes to the tune of $14,000 on three properties, federal prosecutors announced.
Thomas Hawkins, 48, and John Racasi, 51, both from Chicago, discussed scheming with others to make property tax reductions in exchange for bribes — though they are only charged with accepting a single bribe, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The two men worked for Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr. when the bribe was allegedly paid in 2008 though they are no longer assigned to him. Rogers, referred to as “Board of Review Commissioner A” in the complaint, is not charged or implicated in any of the alleged wrongdoing.
A confidential witness cited in the complaint who allegedly obtained the reductions in property tax assessments from the two staffers appears to be the same Chicago cop cited as a confidential witness in a case brought Tuesday against seven people— including associates of former state Sen. Rickey Hendon.
In August of 2008, that same witness — an FBI informant referred to in the complaint as “Individual A”— told Hawkins he should be especially careful when discussing the illegal payments.
In response, Hawkins suggested that when arranging bribes they say, “Let’s go to lunch, bring some lettuce,” the feds alleged.
After getting arrested Wednesday, the two men appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole, who set bond at $10,000 apiece and told them not to discuss the case with each other or anyone else.
“You can’t get on the telephone with each other and chat about the case,” Cole told them. “I implore you not to do that.”
If bond is revoked, they could be recharged with “greater and different” charges, including obstruction of justice, Cole said.
The Board of Review has three elected commissioners. Each employs analysts and other staffers who help in research and advise commissioners preparing to vote on a tax appeal.
Two of the three commissioners must sign off on proposed reductions in property value assessments — which lead to lower property tax payments.
Rogers and fellow commissioners Michael Cabonargi and Dan Patlak issued a joint statement:
“The Board of Review Commissioners are reviewing the serious charges levied against two of its employees. The two employees have held various positions within the Board of Review. In 2008, during the time the alleged crime happened, they were working as residential analysts assigned to Commissioner Rogers’ staff.”
The staffers have been suspended without pay. Both are considered clerical staff working in the office, according to the Board of Review. Hawkins, who started work for Cook County in 2004, was earning $60,419 annually while Racasi, who started in 2006, was earning $47,084, payroll records show.
If convicted, both face up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Contributing: Abdon M. Pallasch, Lisa Donovan