Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office on Thursday announced a controversial property tax appeal obtained by Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker is “in the hands” of a special prosecutor within her office.
But the Democratic prosecutor’s office would say nothing more than that, leaving it unclear whether she has authorized a full-scale investigation into what the Cook County inspector general characterized in a confidential report as a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers.
The news sent ripples through the governor’s race in Illinois, where with only 33 days left before the Nov. 6 election, both Pritzker and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner are running under the clouds of investigations by law-enforcement agencies into their respective affairs.
On Wednesday, Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan confirmed her office is investigating the Rauner administration’s handling of multiple Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks that have been tied to 14 deaths since 2015 at a state-run veterans’ home in downstate Quincy.
The issue confronting Pritzker stems from his 2015 push to lower property taxes on a mansion he and his wife owned adjacent to their Gold Coast home. Their tax appeal was based on the removal of toilets in the neighboring home that Pritzker says he and his wife had been renovating.
The move yielded a $330,000 property tax break because the structure was considered “uninhabitable” in the eyes of the Cook County assessor’s office.
But Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard questioned the legality of that tax appeal in a confidential report, and Pritzker announced this week he would refund the money back to the county treasury.
Rauner has made the tax appeal a focal point of his campaign as he seeks to gain ground on Pritzker, who has led by double-digits in three successive polls since August.
The governor has dubbed Pritzker the “Porcelain Prince” in campaign commercials and has called the appeal criminal. The governor’s surrogates have staged press conferences in front of Pritzker’s home with toilets lined up on the sidewalk.
Foxx’s involvement now represents a potentially troubling development for the Pritzker campaign, though again, it’s not clear whether the state’s attorney has formally opened any kind of investigation based on the vague statement her office issued and its unwillingness to clarify matters late Thursday.
“With regard to the Cook County [inspector general] report you referenced, the matter is in the hands of our special prosecutions unit,” Foxx spokeswoman Tandra R. Simonton said in an emailed statement to WBEZ. “We have no further comment at this time.”
Rauner’s campaign addressed the statement coming out of the state’s attorney’s office Thursday evening by trying to keep the heat on Pritzker over the tax-appeal issue.
“The Cook County inspector general concluded that Pritzker defrauded taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Rauner campaign spokesman Alex Browning said. “Pritzker’s decision to pay that money back is an admission of guilt. Tax fraud is a serious crime that warrants swift prosecution.”.
A Pritzker spokeswoman downplayed the development and reiterated that the Democratic nominee for governor broke no rules with the tax appeal.
“Bruce Rauner’s campaign is trying to use this politically leaked report as a desperate attack to distract from the fact that his administration is now facing a criminal probe into his fatal mismanagement of the Quincy veterans’ home,” Pritzker spokeswoman Galia Slayen said in a text message.
“To be clear, the law was followed, but with just 30-odd days until the election, we should be focusing on the real issues at hand for Illinois like creating jobs, improving education and expanding healthcare,” she said.