Former Cook County Land Bank employee pleads guilty to real estate scheme

Sentencing set to occur June 22

handcuff over Chicago map
(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

A former employee of the Cook County Land Bank will serve prison time after pleading guilty this week to a real estate scam that used his ties to the agency for personal financial benefit. 

Mustafaa Saleh, 36, was indicted in November for wire fraud against the land bank, which is tasked with promoting the redevelopment of vacant parcels and employed Saleh as an asset manager from 2016 to 2019, reported the Chicago Sun-Times.

Saleh faces a three-year prison sentence, set to be imposed at a sentencing hearing in June. He carried out a scheme that took advantage of the land bank, which buys properties and then sells them at below market value to aid redevelopment efforts.

However, land bank rules prohibits buyers from reselling or leasing properties until sufficient renovations and improvements have been made on them, and its employees are restricted from owning any stake or interest in the properties, with an exception for those used as a primary residence.

Suspicions of Saleh heighted in 2021 when a federal grand jury subpoenaed the agency, requesting records related to his sketchy dealings.

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Prosecutors accused Saleh of using “straw buyers” to purchase six different properties on his behalf from 2016 to 2021. These properties were then again sold, built upon or used in some fashion for Saleh’s financial benefit.

In 2016, Saleh also secretly started a property maintenance business called Evergreen Property Services. Someone else posed as the owner, and then the agency hired Evergreen to maintain its properties. In total, Evergreen received over $1 million from the agency, violating the land bank’s policy which forbids employees from having a financial interest in hired contractors. 

Another Cook County employee, Natasha Cornog, made headlines in 2020 after it was discovered that she evaded more than $16,000 in property taxes, and her mother avoided $23,000 in taxes by taking advantage of a senior citizen assessment freeze, despite not being qualified.

— Quinn Donoghue

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