Ex-Cook County Assessor under federal investigation: report

The federal subpoena seeks documents related to “benefits” potentially reaped in exchange for official assessor actions, such as lowering property valuations.

Dec.December 18, 2019 11:20 AM
Former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrior is reportedly under federal investigation related to possible kickbacks in exchange for favorable assessments (Credit: iStock)

Former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrior is reportedly under federal investigation related to possible kickbacks in exchange for favorable assessments (Credit: iStock)

Former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios and his political organization is the subject of a federal probe in which investigators are seeking information related to kickbacks that he may have received in exchange for setting property valuations.

Documents sought in a federal grand jury subpoena obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times include communications and correspondence related to Berrios’ 31st Ward Democratic Organization, his “Friends of Berrios” campaign fund and the Mexican American Political Action Committee, as well as their and their officers, employees and representatives, the newspaper reported.

Investigators are seeking information “related to any official action,” including assessor recommendations, certificates of correction, certificates of error, property valuations and re-reviews, “taken in exchange for a benefit” provided to “any public official or employee, or family member, friend, or nominee of any such person.” They’re specifically looking into Berrio’s retirement party and his access to private planes and boats, among other things.

Berrios’ name had previously been missing from sweeping political corruption investigations in which numerous Cook County Democratic officials have been implicated, including property tax lawyer and current 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke.

During his eight-year tenure as Cook County assessor and his time as a commissioner on the Cook County Board of Review before that, Berrios’ campaign raised millions of dollars from lawyers representing property owners seeking to reduce their taxes.

Berrios was ousted by his opponent in last year’s election, current Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, who ran a campaign in which he criticized Berrios for allegedly undervaluing major downtown commercial properties to the disadvantage of homeowners.

A spokesman for Kaegi’s office wouldn’t confirm or deny the existence of a federal investigation, the Sun-Times reported.

Shortly after losing the Democratic primary to Kaegi, Berrios stepped down as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. He was replaced by Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle.

Berrios is also giving up the 31st Ward Democratic committeeman post he’s held since 1987 as a result of not running in the March primary.

He was known for hiring and promoting relatives, including his son, daughter and sister.

Friends of Berrios had about $17,000 in its coffers at the end of September, according to the former assessor’s latest campaign finance filings, and 31st Ward Democratic Organization reported having no money.

Berrios isn’t known to be directly affiliated with the Mexican American PAC, but it has donated $85,000 to his campaign funds in the past two years, the Sun-Times reported.

[Sun-Times] — Brianna Kelly

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