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State, feds probe county treasurer's office

Friday, January 13, 2006
Special to
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

State and federal authorities are investigating fraud involving at least one worker in the Cook County treasurer's office.

Charges could be filed as early as next week, sources said, adding the investigation captured some fraudulent activity on camera.

Treasurer Maria Pappas declined to discuss specifics, but confirmed "we asked for help" from outside investigators after her office discovered suspicious activity.

The office handles all billing and collecting for the county.

Its most well-known function, however, involves the issuing of property tax bills and any tax refunds that are owed to property owners.

Security cameras could tell tale

Sources said the treasurer's office has provided multiple records to investigators.

The probe -- described by one source as "a complicated investigation" -- began late last year, and some evidence came from security cameras Pappas installed throughout the office in early 2000.

The installation of those cameras drew much criticism from workers at the time, but Pappas said then that they would provide greater accountability in what is a cash-driven office.

The cameras aren't just at the counters where property tax payments are made. They are strategically placed throughout the treasurer's office.

When Pappas was elected in 1998, the office was in disarray, with more than $40 million in years-old refund checks found stuffed in boxes and drawers, never given to taxpayers.

In 2000, two men were charged with forgery and theft for stealing 11 refund checks, totalling more than $346,000, in a scheme that pre-dated Pappas' election.

Pappas took over for Edward Rosewell, who left office amid a guilty plea to federal ghost payrolling charges.

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