Three charged in Cook County property tax bribery scheme
Officials reduced property tax assessments by $78K after golf trips
Former Cook County Assessor’s Office staffers are among the three people charged with conspiracy to defraud in a property tax bribery scandal.
The scheme started in 2017, when Fence Masters owner Robert Mitziga and an unidentified person paid for several golf outings totalling about $3,500 for Basilio Clausen, who was previously an assessor’s office staffer, and some employees of the office, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Clausen then worked with Lumni Likovski, who was also employed by the assessor’s office, and in return Mitziga received lower property taxes through skewed valuations. All three have been charged with conspiracy to defraud.
Clausen, who also owns a business in Crown Point, Indiana, evaded taxes on property he owned, as well, law enforcement officers allege. Another former Cook County Assessor’s Office staffer, Lavdim Memisovski, was involved in the bribery scheme as well and got charged last year in a separate case.
Memisovski was charged for the same crime last year in a scandal in which he lowered tax bills for developer Alex Nitchoff in exchange for sports tickets, jewelry and other gifts.
After the first golf outing, Clausen left the unidentified person a voicemail saying the appealed assessments were “not going to be an issue at all,” prosecutors said. Clausen brought other officials in on the scheme and conspired to work around the assessor’s office’s random assignment system.
After the second outing, officials agreed to reduce Mitziga’s assessment by nearly $28,000 and the unidentified individual’s by about $53,000. Mitziga pushed for a bigger break, however, saying he paid $114 more than the other person for the two trips.
“Oh s—-, make sure [Memisovski] gives me a better deal than he gets [unnamed individual],” Mitziga allegedly said in a call with Clausen. “I’m paying for more of this stuff.”
Clausen was suspended in light of the allegations and eventually resigned in December.
Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s office said it has instituted a new two-step approval system for appealed assessments to prevent such scandals from reoccurring, though hasn’t offered details on how it works.
The three men facing charges each face five to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
— Quinn Donoghue
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