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Cook County’s top watchdog suing Berrios for ignoring subpoena

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios  |  Sun-Times files

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios | Sun-Times files

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Updated: July 15, 2013 3:14PM

Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard says Joe Berrios has been dodging a subpoena for nearly a year.

Now Blanchard is taking the Cook County Assessor to court.

Blanchard’s office sued Berrios late last week, asking a Cook County judge to force Berrios to comply with Blanchard’s subpoena demanding records related to tax breaks on two properties owned by a Berrios office manager, Lewis Towers.

He wants to know about homeowner’s exemptions on Towers’ homes in Chicago and Sauk Village. Residential property owners in Cook County may claim only one homeowner exemption — on the home where they live full-time.

Berrios’ office has said Blanchard doesn’t have the authority to subpoena him, and Berrios said he’s avoiding the subpoena at the advice of his “attorney” — Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office.

“They tell us what to do,” Berrios said.

Because Alvarez’s office is representing Berrios, a judge has appointed Chicago lawyers Alexander Polikoff and Emily Blumberg to represent Blanchard.

Blanchard first sought the records in an August 2012 letter. Berrios’ staff answered with its own letter telling him to file a Freedom of Information Act request. Blanchard fired back with a subpoena later that same month, and Berrios’ office told Blanchard he has no authority to issue a subpoena “against separately elected officials.”

Blanchard general counsel Steven Cyranoski sent one final letter to Berrios’ staff in September, but Blanchard’s complaint said Berrios’ office never wrote back.

That letter said the ordinance governing the Inspector General gives it authority to “investigate corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, unlawful political discrimination and misconduct” in offices under Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle “as well as the separately elected county officials.”

And while Berrios said the matter was resolved internally — he said Towers paid back the money he got from the tax break — Blanchard said that’s not good enough.

“Just because a subject of an investigation tells you that everything’s OK is not going to stop an investigator from pursuing all the evidence,” Blanchard told the Sun-Times.

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