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Lowering of questionable tax assessments reversed

Thursday, July 30, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Owners of several suburban Chicago businesses who caught tax breaks on their commercial properties are getting some bad news this week.

The Cook County Board of Review reversed its decisions to lower tax assessments on two hotels, a small industrial property and an antique and home furnishings store in Schaumburg in the wake of a criminal probe as well as an internal investigation into whether political favors were traded for successful tax appeals.

In April and May, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office subpoenaed Board of Review records for two dozen tax appeals, including the four cases reversed Wednesday, according to documents obtained by the Sun-Times.

And Board of Review staff have been examining whether state Rep. Paul Froehlich, along with a former staffer for Board of Review Cmsr. and Cook County Democratic Party Chair Joseph Berrios, used political muscle to obtain reductions

“Our investigation is to evaluate who is filing the appeals, to make sure they’re being properly filed and to make sure our process isn’t being compromised in any way,’’ Board of Review Cmsr. Larry Rogers Jr. told the Sun-Times.

Bimal Doshi, one of the owners of the Comfort Suites, 1100 E. Higgins Road, expects to appeal Wednesday’s decision to bump his hotel’s 2008 assessed value by 28 percent to $1,080,433. Owners had appealed the $1.3 million assessed value in 2007 and the board approved a reduction to $839,039, board records show.

Doshi’s tax break came under scrutiny this year after it was revealed he made contributions to Froehlich’s campaign.

“There was no impropriety that went on,’’ Doshi told the Sun-Times. “We made donations based on our political beliefs.’’

Mike Gray, owner of the property occupied by Treasure Hunt at 1230 N. Roselle Rd., saw the property’s assessed value increase by nearly $1 million.

His tax bill is projected to increase from $63,442 in 2008 to $235,945 in 2009.

In 2007, his assessed value was $831,035, but upon appeal it was reduced to $351,259. Now the assessed value is $1.3 million. Gray couldn’t be reached for comment.

Asked what prompted the changes, Berrios said: “There were some questions raised as to what happened last year. We called . . . [the property owners] in for a hearing and we determined where the assessment should be.’’

He declined to talk about his former employee, political operative Victor Santana, whose name came up repeatedly when property owners were asked about who they worked with to file appeals, according to hearing transcripts and board staff.

Gray testified in a June review board hearing that Santana’s fee was $1,000 apiece for his work on appeals for 2006 and 2007. But only property owners or attorneys can legally file appeals, board staff says.

Commissioners voted to ban Santana from the board’s private offices.

But Santana maintained, “I didn’t do anything wrong.’’

Froehlich also denies any wrongdoing.

“There was never any requirement, never any agreement for any compensation. It was just me helping constituents who lived in my district, asking for help,’’ said Froelich, a one-time assessor for Schaumburg Township.

“I gave advice to folks on how to do appeals, and they did so successfully up until today,’’ Froelich said Wednesday. He recently announced he will not run for re-election.

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