Flushed: Feds probing Illinois governor for tax evasion over ... toilets?

In a world of constant change, it’s a relief to know that some traditions continue. In Illinois, Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker will keep alive the tradition of federal criminal investigations, a tradition with a rich history of housing some of Pritzker’s predecessors in Club Fed for their retirement. Chicago radio station WBEZ broke the news this morning of a probe into tax claims by Pritzker and his family over a family mansion rendered uninhabitable by disabling all its toilets:

Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, his wife and his brother-in-law are under federal criminal investigation for a dubious residential property tax appeal that dogged him during his gubernatorial campaign last year, WBEZ has learned.

A law-enforcement source familiar with the investigation confirmed to WBEZ that the probe, which has not been revealed publicly until now, began last October and remains active. There are no signs that criminal charges are imminent.

WBEZ has also confirmed that Illinois First Lady MK Pritzker’s personal assistant who was involved in the property tax appeal, Christine Lovely, is being represented by one of Chicago’s most high-powered lawyers. Her attorney, Reid Schar, is a former federal prosecutor who helped convict ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.

It’s tough to tell the teams without a scorecard. Especially in Illinois.

The issue of the tax claims for the “uninhabitable” mansion came up in last year’s election campaign. In May 2017, the Chicago Sun-Times exposed the machinations that saved Pritzker and his family a fortune, even though Pritzker hardly needs the help:

J.B. Pritzker, billionaire would-be governor, bought the historic mansion next door to his even bigger home on Chicago’s Gold Coast, let it fall into disrepair — and then argued it was “uninhabitable” to win what so far have been nearly $230,000 in property-tax breaks, records show.

Pritzker, his wife and their two children live in a palatial, three-story home in the Gold Coast with more than 12,500 square feet of living space and a two-story coach house. They bought that for $14.5 million in May 2006 and spent an additional amount fixing it up — between $11 million and $25 million more, records show. …

Pritzker refurbished the outside of the Federal-style home, where the Gordons raised their family. But the inside has fallen into disrepair. The toilets have been disconnected, and the home has “no functioning bathrooms or kitchen,” according to documents Pritzker’s lawyers filed with the office of Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios.

Arguing that the smaller mansion is “vacant and uninhabitable,” those lawyers convinced Berrios to slash its assessed value last year from $6.25 million to just under $1.1 million.

A month before the election, Pritzker remained the Democratic candidate, but the issue had not gone away. Just a few weeks ahead of the election, Cook County’s inspector general called this a “scheme to defraud” the county of badly needed real estate tax revenue and demanded action be taken to get the money. Patrick Blanchard also alleged that the “responsible parties” perjured themselves:

Cook County’s chief watchdog has concluded that more than $330,000 in property tax breaks and refunds that Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker received on one of his Gold Coast mansions — in part by removing toilets — constituted a “scheme to defraud.”

Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard also recommends in the confidential report that Cook County should try to recover the money from the billionaire. …

Blanchard writes in the report — obtained by the Sun-Times — that the assessor’s office was “the victim of sworn affidavits containing false representations.

“The evidence indicates that the use of these affidavits was part of a scheme for 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.

Nevertheless, Illinois voters — led largely by Cook County — elected Pritzker governor anyway. Electing the crook is also a long tradition in Illinois, which is why the other tradition of federal prosecution for the office’s inhabitants exists.

In fact, Pritzker celebrated his first 100 days in office yesterday. Guess what policy he chose to promote to mark the occasion? Pritzker promoted his proposal to change the Illinois income tax to a progressive system rather than a flat tax, purportedly to instill fairness in its assessments:

One of Gov. Pritzker’s major goals during this legislative session is his plan to change the state’s income tax system from a flat tax to a graduated income tax, which he has dubbed the “fair” tax. To do so, Pritzker first needs legislative support and then 60 percent of voters to approve a referendum next year. He seems confident it will happen.

“I’m excited about where we are, we’ve got a lot of support for the ‘fair’ tax,” Pritzker said.

But Pritzker would not promise his controversial tax plan won’t later raise taxes on more than just those making over $250,000 a year.

You can’t make this up. Nor do you need to, because … Illinois.

Pritzker defended himself after the WBEZ report, claiming he has no reason to worry:

“Let me be clear that I’m very confident that any review of this matter will show that all the rules were followed,’’ Pritzker told reporters at an unrelated event in Chicago on Wednesday. “I have not been contacted by any law enforcement, neither has M.K.’’ …

“My opponents raised this issue, and it became a political subject last October,” Pritzker said at the Wednesday event, adding that he has “no concerns” that there will be criminal charges stemming from the investigation.

Instead, he is “laser focused” on his current job responsibilities, Pritzker said. “We have many bills that are focused on lifting up working families.”

They have bills, all right — just not the Franklins that the Pritzkers avoided paying by cutting off the toilets in their mansion.