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Larry Rogers

Larry Rogers, Jr., a Cook County Board of Review commissioner, has a challenger in the March 19 primary who is backed by Assessor Fritz Kaegi.

Pat Nabong

Longtime Cook County tax appeal commissioner faces a big-money push to replace him

At one time in his 20 years as a Cook County Board of Review commissioner, Larry Rogers Jr. employed his half-brother, Frederic Everly, at the agency that can reduce property tax bills.

After he left the payroll of the Board of Review, Everly became a lawyer specializing in tax appeals. Since then, Rogers’s aides have facilitated property tax breaks for some of Everly’s clients, according to documents obtained by WBEZ.

Rogers’s challenger in the March Democratic primary, Larecia Tucker, says those facts and other ethics problems mean the veteran politician does not deserve another term at the three-member Board of Review.

“It is very inappropriate,” Tucker said of Rogers staffers handling his sibling’s cases. “It is not ethical. It is a conflict of interest.”

Tucker, a township official and real estate agent from Chicago Heights, is getting significant financial backing from Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, who has feuded with Rogers for years.

As of Sunday, Kaegi had contributed $385,000 to the Stop Tax Corruption Cook County political fund, state campaign-finance disclosure records show. The group has funded mailers in favor of Tucker and opposing Rogers’s re-election to what would be his sixth term.

Because the Board of Review decides appeals of decisions made by the assessor’s office, Rogers says Kaegi’s involvement in his reelection race represents the true ethical problem.

Cook County Board of Review

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

Tyler LaRiviere

“What’s happening in this race currently is of grave concern because it threatens the independence of the office,” Rogers said.

Rogers alleges Kaegi “handpicked” Tucker and is funding her challenge so that property owners who appeal the assessed values set by Kaegi’s office will be denied reductions by the Board of Review.

Rogers noted that Kaegi once said he would not get involved in elections for the three Board of Review commissioners.

“Anybody who looks at this race has to be appalled by Fritz Kaegi funding the person who would be in charge of reviewing his own work,” said Rogers, who also is a personal injury lawyer. “It’s a conflict of interest that is impermissible and should offend every taxpayer in Cook County.”

Board of Review weighs in on Bears’ tax bill

The Board of Review can seem like just an obscure backwater of local government, but the three commissioners wield great power, frequently reducing the tax bills of property owners across the county. And reductions for some property owners can mean increases in the tax bills for others nearby.

In the most recent high-profile case, the Chicago Bears appealed Kaegi’s assessment of the vast Arlington Park site they bought to build a new stadium. The Board of Review this week decided in a split decision to reduce the assessment for Arlington Park, but not nearly as much as the football team wanted their tax bill to get cut.

Kaegi thinks the Bears should pay more than what Rogers and Commissioner George Cardenas decided in the ruling this week.

And Tucker says she likely would have deferred to the third commissioner, Samantha Steele, whose Board of Review district includes the potential stadium site. Steele did not want to give as big of a break to the Bears as Rogers and Cardenas.

Arlington Park’s tax dispute represents only the latest in a series of conflicts between Kaegi and Rogers, who describes Kaegi as the worst of the three assessors he has worked with since first getting elected in 2004.

Kaegi defeated incumbent Joe Berrios — who also led the Cook County Democratic Party — in 2018 and won reelection in 2022. Kaegi promised reforms that would result in “equity and transparency and fairness to a broken property tax system that was stacked against middle-class residents.”

The assessor told WBEZ he was proud to support the independent expenditure committee that’s gotten deeply involved in the Rogers-Tucker race because it serves “the cause of stopping corruption as it intersects with our tax system.”

Rogers has been fined by the county’s ethics committee for representing private clients in cases against the county, and former Rogers staffers have been convicted of corruption.

“Larry Rogers is a rogue, pay-to-play commissioner, and he’s allowed egregious corruption and inequalities to run rampant,” Kaegi said.

Kaegi and Tucker have criticized Rogers also for taking campaign contributions from property tax appeals lawyers and others with interests in matters before the Board of Review. Tucker has promised not to take any money from the tax appeals bar.

Rogers also once employed Everly, his mother’s son, at the Board of Review, despite the county government’s ban against nepotism hiring, the Sun-Times reported in 2012.

Cook County assessor Fritz Kaegi

Cook County assessor Fritz Kaegi poses for a portrait at the Cook County Building at 118 N. Clark in the Loop on July 9, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez

Rogers’s brother files appeals to Board of Review

Everly now is a lawyer in private practice, and on his downtown firm’s website, he describes himself as specializing in property tax appeals. His website does not, however, mention his family ties to Rogers.

“I’m very familiar with the property tax assessment process,” Everly says on the website. “With my insight into what’s ahead, I can help you pursue a more manageable tax burden.”

Everly has emailed Board of Review staff with lists of the appeals he handles, telling them that Rogers’s staff should be recused from his cases. In some of those cases, Rogers’s staff did not get involved.

But in other instances, aides to Rogers favored granting reductions for Everly’s clients, according to documents obtained through open records requests.

In a recent interview, Rogers said he did not personally get involved in any of the cases involving his half-brother’s clients because he delegates all such decisions to staff.

“I don’t decide any individual appeals whatsoever,” Rogers told WBEZ. “I focus on hiring qualified people, and I trust their decisions. There’s absolutely no evidence to support any suggestion that I played a role in a reduction.”

Rogers also noted that decisions that favored his brother’s clients, like any case before the board, were reviewed by the offices of the other two Board of Review commissioners, too.

“So the suggestion that I have somehow helped someone or participated in any illicit activity is completely meritless and baseless,” Rogers said. “I take great pride in my reputation as a lawyer now for approximately 30 years, as someone who gives back to his community, and I take personal offense to those types of unsupported and baseless attacks.”

As for the campaign contributions he gets from property tax appeals lawyers, Rogers said he was careful not to accept more than the county’s ethics rules allow him to receive from them.

Tucker vows she would act independently

Rogers’s reelection campaign has the support of many other major elected officials other than Kaegi, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Rogers said Tucker was not qualified to succeed him as Board of Review commissioner for a district that covers a third of the county, including much of Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs.

But Tucker said she has experience helping property owners in Rich Township file appeals of their taxes. She argued that far too few homeowners know of the opportunity to challenge their assessments at the Board of Review.

“The biggest reason why I am running is because the constituents deserve better,” she said. “They deserve someone who is going to want to see them succeed, too — just not the big corporations.”

Tucker also said she and Kaegi “both want reform” but, if elected, she would not merely do his bidding at the Board of Review.

“I am an independent person with an independent mind,” Tucker said. “There are going to be times that Kaegi and I will not see eye to eye on things.”

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

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