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Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele in Daley Plaza in the Loop, Monday, June 3, 2024. Steele says she’s placing employee Jon Snyder on unpaid leave after WBEZ inquired about why he was hired despite a misdemeanor federal conviction for a tax-related conviction.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cook County agency employs Indiana politician who pleaded guilty in federal case

Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele hired Jon Snyder, who testified against his brother. But on Tuesday, Steele put Snyder on leave.

In northwest Indiana just a few years ago, Jon Snyder struck a deal with federal authorities, pleading guilty to a minor charge after cooperating and even testifying in a corruption case against his own brother, who was the mayor of Portage.

While his brother James Snyder has appealed his bribery conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — which is expected to issue a potential landmark ruling in the matter soon — Jon Snyder landed a new government job across the state line.

He’s now working for an obscure but influential Cook County agency. Documents obtained by WBEZ show Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Samantha Steele hired Jon Snyder to join her staff as a $75,000-a-year analyst for commercial property-tax appeals cases in December 2022.

And he recently received a hefty raise, to more than $91,000 a year, even after board officials were made aware of his criminal conviction in the Hoosier State, according to personnel files provided to WBEZ through an open-records request.

Steele — who is from Indiana but was elected to the three-member Board of Review after a reform-themed campaign in 2022 — initially defended hiring Jon Snyder when asked about his criminal history by a reporter on Tuesday. She noted that he was convicted of a misdemeanor charge unrelated to his official duties as a county assessor in Indiana.

But a short time later, Steele told WBEZ she was placing Jon Snyder on administrative leave without pay and would request investigations into his past by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Board of Review’s secretary.

Steele said Jon Snyder was highly qualified and had done a great job as an employee in her office but that she put him on unpaid leave because of her “fiscal responsibility to my taxpayers.”

“That’s what I’m here to do — to help rebuild faith in the system,” Steele said. “I can’t have the perception that there is something amiss in the office.”

Jon Snyder told WBEZ on Tuesday he had begun cooperating with the feds voluntarily and “was nothing but cooperative the whole time and honest and truthful.”

Before coming to Illinois, Jon Snyder was the assessor in Porter County, Ind. That’s when he cooperated with the feds, secretly recording conversations with James Snyder and taking the stand as a government witness in federal court in Hammond during his brother’s trial in 2019, court records show.

“Jon Snyder also provided helpful information in other criminal investigations,” prosecutors wrote in his sentencing memo.

After Jon Snyder helped in winning James Snyder’s conviction, the feds sought the lightest possible punishment under sentencing guidelines, according to court records.

Jon Snyder was sentenced to one year of probation for a single misdemeanor tax-related charge, admitting he “willfully failed” to file a 1099 form with the Internal Revenue Service for an employee of his private appraisal company who was paid more than $5,000 in 2013.

“Nothing ever happened in my office as I was the assessor there,” Jon Snyder said. “I don’t feel it was fair I had to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.”

Asked why he had done so in that case, he replied, “Because I just wanted to be done … I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I wasn’t a very good record keeper.”

Board of Review

The Cook County Board of Review is located at the Cook County Building in downtown Chicago.

Tyler LaRiviere/ Chicago Sun-Times

On his job application in Cook County, Snyder made no mention of his federal conviction in his home state. He listed his time as Porter County assessor, but wrote “retired” under the section asking him for his “reason for leaving” that position. When asked by WBEZ why he didn’t mention his conviction on the application, Snyder said, “If it didn’t ask it, then I didn’t provide it.” Snyder said, however, that Steele and her top aide knew about his conviction.

And Board of Review records show at least one agency official raised concerns about Snyder’s past. In a memo to Steele on Dec. 13, 2022 — a week after Snyder started working for the county — the board’s secretary at the time wrote about Snyder’s conviction.

The secretary, Jonathan Chapman, told Steele that “it was inadvertently discovered that Mr. Snyder pled guilty for a tax related matter in federal court” in Indiana and testified against his brother. Chapman suggested that Steele talk to the other two board commissioners, Larry Rogers Jr. and George Cardenas, about the hiring of Snyder.

In the memo, Chapman referenced the federal criminal case against board employee Danilo Barjaktarevic, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes in 2023. The Sun-Times had reported on that federal investigation in 2021.

“I am not stating that the conviction precludes the hiring of Mr. Snyder,” Chapman told Steele in his December 2022 memo. “However, based upon the recent federal investigation and internal investigation that the Board of Review endured due to previous employee D.B., we ask that you discuss the hire of Mr. John [sic] Snyder with the other two commissioners and then provide guidance as to how you want the Office of the Secretary to proceed.”

On Tuesday, Rogers and Cardenas said Steele did not contact them about Snyder. Cardenas said he later became aware of Snyder’s criminal history.

“This was an issue that should have been discussed, as it would affect the board’s credibility and image,” Cardenas said.

But Steele said she did tell the other commissioners about his misdemeanor conviction.

Chapman no longer works for the board and declined to comment Tuesday. But in his December 2022 memo to Steele, he also raised questions about whether Snyder met residency requirements to work for the county.

Chapman noted that Snyder lived in Indiana and would have to move into the county within six months.

Records obtained by WBEZ show the board’s human resources department also wrote to Snyder and told him they were looking into “circumstances surrounding your residency.” Snyder promptly forwarded that message to Steele, asking her, “What does this mean?”

Steele contacted the head of human resources and other board officials on Dec. 18, 2022, documents show. “Why is Human Resources reaching out to my employee who had started on the 6th?” Steele wrote. “He has six months to move … This is completely unacceptable.”

At the time he began working for the board, Snyder wrote to Steele, “I plan to comply with the Cook County employee requirement to live within Cook County.”

But in payroll records provided to WBEZ in late April, Snyder’s home address was still listed in Indiana. Steele said Tuesday that Snyder and some other aides in her office continue to live in Indiana and that officials cannot force them to move to Cook County.

Snyder said he’s had “a great run” in Steele’s office, completing more commercial tax-appeal cases “than anyone else on our team.”

Jon Snyder

Former Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder

Porter County assessor’s office

Steele is a Democrat who used to be assessor of Tippecanoe County, Ind., and was later elected to represent District 2 at the Board of Review, which covers much of the North Side of Chicago and the North Shore and northwest suburbs. With the support of two of three Board of Review commissioners, anybody who has appealed can effectively get a break on their property-tax bill.

While Jon Snyder has worked for Cook County, his brother has banked his hopes of overturning his federal criminal conviction on the U.S. Supreme Court.

James Snyder was convicted of “corrupt solicitation” because he got a consulting contract from a trucking company after using his power as mayor of Portage to steer public work to the company. There was no evidence he did any work for the consulting fees he was paid.

But the Supreme Court is considering his appeal, which challenges the validity of a federal law used by prosecutors to convict politicians across the country — including in Illinois.

The ruling from the Supreme Court — which is expected as soon as Wednesday — could impact the federal corruption cases involving former Illinois House Speaker Micheal Madigan, lobbyists and executives of Commonwealth Edison and ex-Chicago Ald. Edward Burke.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.

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