Two Cook County Board of Review analysts were arrested last week on federal bribery charges for allegedly decreasing property taxes on three residential buildings, one of which was in .
Thomas Hawkins, 48, and John Racasi, 51, both of Chicago, accepted $1,500 to reduce property tax assessments by more than $14,000, according to information recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The pair was taken into custody July 18 and charged with one count each of accepting a bribe.
Negotiations were reportedly among Hawkins, Racasi and a Chicago Police officer identified in the affidavit as "CS1." The officer allegedly began cooperating with federal authorities during an investigation of public corruption and gun trafficking in the Chicago area. He or she had not yet been charged as of July 24 but may likely face attempted extortion and firearms-related charges, according to a news release from the FBI.
Hawkins and Racasi allegedly discussed in several instances scheming with others to facilitate reductions in exchange for bribes; however, the complaint charges them with accepting just one bribe. The $1,500 in bribes were allegedly handed over in July 2008 but no one was charged at the time because of ongoing investigations concerning some of those involved, police said.
The officer cooperating in the investigation reportedly recorded several meetings and conversations about the tax assessment reductions, which were for homes in Chicago and Burbank and a condominium in Tinley Park. The exact addresses aren't specified in the complaint affidavit, said U.S. Attorney's Office Spokesman Randall Samborn.
The complaint does detail some of the conversations, however. In one, it says Hawkins mentioned only needing "two of the three" commissioners and that most property assessments "come in high anyway until we knock them down."
The three also reportedly discussed the fact that lawyers typically charged a fee of 33 percent of the amount of the reduction, while they believed they could obtain between 20 and 30 percent of the tax reduction through a bribery scheme.
“We’re going to have a lot. Let’s do a $500 … fee. All right? That’s the whole thing (inaudible) for every house because there’s going to be so many houses," Hawkins said in one conversation, according to the complaint. "That way nobody gets hoggish, and there is room to play if you want to play."
The Board of Review includes three commissioners, each of whom has analysts and other staff who provide recommendations as to how the commissioners should vote in reviewing appeals of the Cook County Assessor’s property tax assessments.
Hawkins and Racasi were analysts since December 2004 and September 2008, respectively. If convicted, each could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The FBI’s Chicago City Public Corruption Task Force led the investigation with help from the Chicago Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, which is a task force member.
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