Ex-Board of Review employee sues tax-appeal agency in whistleblower claim  

Alleges Commissioner Samantha Steele fired him for cooperating in investigation

Ex-Board of Review Employee Sues Chicago's Tax-Appeal Agency
Former Cook County Board of Review employee Frank Calabrese (Cook County Board of Review, Getty)

A former employee of the Cook County Board of Review has filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the property tax-appeal agency, Commissioner Samantha Steele and her chief of staff Dan Balanoff. 

Frank Calabrese, the ex-employee, claims he was terminated in retaliation for cooperating with investigators from the county’s Office of the Independent Inspector General, WBEZ Chicago reported

Calabrese, who served as an appeals analyst and communications director, alleged in his complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, that Steele and Balanoff pressured him to engage in political activities against two other Board of Review commissioners, Larry Rogers Jr. and George Cardenas.

He also claims he was punished for seeking legal advice after Steele instructed him to draft and distribute a memo concerning the Chicago Bears’ property-tax appeal for land in Arlington Heights, where it once planned to build a new stadium. 

“There’s so many falsehoods in this document I don’t know where to begin,” Steele told the outlet. “But under the advice of counsel, neither myself nor my staff will be commenting on this matter until it is resolved.”

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According to board records, Calabrese started working for the Board of Review in December 2022 with an annual salary of nearly $89,000. He was fired on May 20 after participating in two interviews with the inspector general’s investigators. Calabrese alleged that Steele and Balanoff were aware of the investigation and sought details from him about his disclosures.

Calabrese’s attorney, Matt Custardo, described the case as a classic example of whistleblower retaliation. Calabrese noted that county employees are required to cooperate with the inspector general to avoid disciplinary action.

Steele, elected in 2022, has had ongoing conflicts with Rogers and Cardenas, particularly over the property tax assessments for the Bears’ potential stadium at the former Arlington Park racetrack. 

In a separate incident, the outlet reported that another Steele office employee, Jon Snyder, had a misdemeanor federal conviction for a tax-related charge and had testified in a corruption case against his brother, the former mayor of Portage, Indiana. Steele placed Snyder on administrative leave pending investigation, although the board’s secretary indicated Snyder was on paid suspension.

—Quinn Donoghue

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