A suburban congressional candidate improperly claimed two homeowner exemptions at once over a period of several years, a Daily Herald investigation has found.
But after the Daily Herald pointed out the error, Tammy Duckworth says she paid $1,928 in taxes she saved because of the extra exemption, plus an added $612 in penalties.
"They didn't think about it," Duckworth spokesman Kaitlin Fahey said of the issue. "Taxes were paid out of escrow. This wasn't like beating the system."
County records show Duckworth claimed homestead exemptions in both DeKalb and Cook counties from 2007 to 2010. The Hoffman Estates Democrat is running against Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, of McHenry, in the 8th Congressional District.
By law, Illinois residents can only claim the exemption on the property that is their primary residence. The exemption reduces the amount of property taxes owed by lowering a property's assessed value.
The DeKalb exemption was filed first, after Duckworth and her husband Bryan Bowlsbey purchased the property in 1997.
In DeKalb County, Chief County Assessment Officer Robin Brunschon said, exemptions are automatically renewed each year unless residents notify the assessor's office that they have changed their primary address.
Duckworth and Bowlsbey purchased a Hoffman Estates home in 2002. They now rent out the DeKalb property, receiving between $5,000 and $15,000 annually in income from it, according to the Financial Disclosure Statement that candidates, office holders, and high-level government employees are required to submit to the United States House of Representatives.
According to her campaign, Duckworth never applied for the Cook County homeowner exemption after moving to the Hoffman Estates property, and only began receiving the exemption after applying for a veterans tax credit.
Duckworth, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard, was deployed to Iraq in 2004. That November, she lost both her legs and partial use of her right arm after a rocket-propelled grenade took down the helicopter she was flying.
In 2007, Duckworth applied for a disabled veterans tax credit and listed the Hoffman Estates house as her primary residence.
In 2010, Duckworth was appointed to a veterans affairs cabinet post in the Obama administration and was living in Washington D.C. for part of the year. She completed a change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service, noting the Hoffman property was still her primary residence, Fahey said.
After that, Fahey said, Duckworth received a letter that the homeowner exemption was taken off the DeKalb property.
Fahey said Duckworth was unaware she had been claiming two homeowner exemptions between 2007 and 2010.
John Sullivan, an attorney who specializes in property tax appeals, said Duckworth contacted him weeks ago about the issue, and he computed how much she owed to DeKalb County.
The four years of claiming the benefit in DeKalb County saved Duckworth $1,928, Brunschon said.
Duckworth has sent a check to DeKalb County to cover what she would have paid without the exemption, plus an added $612 in late fees, Sullivan said. As of Tuesday afternoon, Brunschon had not yet received the check.
Unlike other states, Illinois has no laws on the books allowing county assessors to penalize residents for improperly claiming exemptions.
The 8th District includes portions of Northwest Cook, central DuPage and eastern Kane County, with Schaumburg roughly at its center.
Walsh's campaign Wednesday cut at the amount of time Duckworth spent in Washington, D.C. as assistant secretary of veterans affairs, with spokesman Justin Roth calling it "conceivable that she probably just forgot which one of her Illinois homes she was pretending to live in."
Duckworth, Roth said, "should now apologize to voters of the 8th District so we can move back to the issues that voters care about; jobs and the economy."
Duckworth has attacked Walsh for his lack of fiscal responsibility.
Walsh was elected for the first time in 2010, following reports of a foreclosure on his Evanston condominium and state and federal liens for unpaid taxes. In December 2010, his former wife filed a lawsuit claiming Walsh had failed to pay nearly $100,000 in child support payments, an issue they resolved this spring out of court.