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Feds: 2 Cook Co. workers took bribe to lower assessments

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Chicago Tribune

Two analysts for the Cook County Board of Review were arrested today on federal bribery charges for allegedly accepting $1,500 to help reduce property tax assessments on three residential properties by more than $14,000, according to prosecutors.

Thomas Hawkins and John Racasi provided recommendations on how members of the Board of Review should vote when reviewing appeals of property tax assessments.

Hawkins and Racasi were both on the staff of "Commissioner A" when they accepted the $1,500 bribe in September of 2008 to recommend reductions in assessments, according to the U.S. attorney's office, which said they were not charged at the time because of "ongoing investigations."

Hawkins, 48, and Racasi, 51, both of Chicago, were each charged with one count of accepting a bribe. They were scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole at 2 p.m. today.

Prosecutors said they were aided in the case by a Chicago police officer who is facing charges from an investigation of public corruption and gun-trafficking. The complaint doesn't name the officer, referring to him only as a "confidential source."

According to the complaint, the officer was introduced to Hawkins and Racasi in July of 2008 and recorded several meetings during which he discussed paying them bribes to get assessments lowered on homes in Chicago and Burbank, and on a condominium in Tinley Park.  

"We’re analysts, so we handle all the property taxes and go through the files, find out if the assessor is," Hawkins said at one meeting at a restaurant, according to the complaint. "Most of them always come in high anyway until we knock it down.”
 
In September of 2008, the officer talked with Hawkins and Racasi about the amount of the bribe and also discussed what it might cost to get other assessments lowered in the future. 

“We’re going to have a lot.  Let’s do a $500 fee.  Alright?" Hawkins said. "That’s the whole thing [inaudible] for every house because there’s going to be so many houses.  That way nobody gets hoggish, and there is room to play if you want to play.”  

Racasi and the officer agreed, the complaint states.

 Later that month, Hawkins and Racasi agreed to reduce the values on the properties in Chicago, Burbank and Tinley Park, the complaint states. In return for $1,500, Hawkins and Racasi promised the officer he would save at least $14,209.



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