Pritzker pays back tax breaks following report on toilet 'scheme'

While J.B. Pritzker is paying back $331,000 in property tax breaks after a report linking the Democratic candidate to a "scheme" to defraud Cook County, his campaign insisted Tuesday the facts are being twisted by Republicans.

The findings from Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard provide a boost for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's re-election campaign and put a spotlight on Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, a Democrat.

"This needs to be investigated by the U.S. attorney's office and Kim Foxx today needs to figure out what she's going to do because there has been a theft of funds," former Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady said at a news conference outside Pritzker's Gold Coast home.

Pritzker was in the process of returning the money Tuesday, but his campaign stated, "This is a politically leaked report without new information. From the parts released, it appears that information is being taken out of context to falsely insinuate wrongdoing."

A spokeswoman for Foxx said, "We are in possession of the report and we are currently reviewing it," while a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.

The crux of the 33-page report contends that the Pritzkers, through proxies, hired a plumber in 2015 to tear out toilets in an Astor Street mansion next to their home.

An Oct. 5, 2015, memo from the Pritzker's property manager to a plumber stated that Pritzker's wife, Mary Katherine, "is going to have the house reassessed as an uninhabitable structure. To do this, she would like to have us pull all toilets." The toilets were removed Oct. 6, 2015.

On Oct. 14 of that year, Pritzker's representatives appealed the assessment for 2015, as well as 2012, 2013 and 2014, stating the building was uninhabitable, Blanchard said.

After a reappraisal, the assessor's office revised the market value of the house from $5.7 million to $2.5 million, which resulted in $331,432 in tax refunds, the report indicates.

In January, Pritzker told the Daily Herald that "like 54,000 other people in Cook County every single year, I sought to have my property reassessed and we did. Prior to that ... we bought the (other) property and had been in the process of renovating it. We halted those renovations at some point because we were busy and because we weren't sure exactly what direction to go with the home and that was what happened when we got it reassessed."

Blanchard said documents submitted for the reassessment were "part of a scheme for obtaining money by means of false representations ... as a result the county ultimately fell victim to a scheme to defraud." He also noted that such a scheme could be prosecuted under federal conspiracy or mail fraud charges.

Pritzker's campaign said "weeks before the election a desperate Bruce Rauner has tried to invent a new way to save his failure as governor, but like everything else he touches, this too will fail."

Rauner has charged that Pritzker used his connections with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Cook Assessor Joseph Berrios to influence his assessment, which Pritzker denies.

Blanchard noted that "we have identified no credible influence to support the allegations that a relationship between J.B. Pritzker and ... Joseph Berrios allowed Mr. Pritzker to obtain property tax relief on the 1431 N. Astor Street residence."

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  J.B. Pritzker talks to the Daily Herald editorial board in September. The Democratic candidate is under fire for tax breaks he received on a Gold Coast mansion. Mark Welsh/
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