Cook County homeowners said: Pay for property tax breaks they wrongly received

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A wealthy couple have agreed to pay back more than $67,000 in property tax breaks they falsely claimed for two years at their 58th-floor Water Tower Place condo.

The daughter of a dead mobster has to pay back $16,271 in tax breaks she received after her father’s name was repeatedly put on requests to reduce property taxes on her Bridgeview home.

And an 89-year-old woman has to repay $90,552 in property tax breaks for homeowners and seniors, which she continued to claim after her Pilsen apartment building was handed over to a company controlled by her grandson.

After a series of reports from the Chicago Sun-Times uncovered questionable tax breaks, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s staff has ordered four people to pay back a total of $254,298 for years of tax breaks they shouldn’t have gotten.

And in a rare move for the appraiser’s office, the dead mobster’s case was turned over to the Cook County Attorney’s Office to determine whether any laws had been violated that wrongly claimed the exemptions that lowered the home’s property tax bills.

Other homeowners have seen their property taxes spike after Kaegi employees recalculated the exemptions they claimed under one of the most lucrative property tax exemptions — the “senior freeze,” which can drastically reduce tax bills.

This tax credit limits the wealth valuation for individuals age 65 and older with household incomes under $65,000. The goal of the law creating this exemption was to protect seniors from rising property taxes in booming neighborhoods.

Two years ago, the appraiser granted senior citizen bans on 144,904 properties, shifting $250 million in property taxes from them to Cook County’s other 1.77 million properties. Collectively, Cook County taxpayers pay $15.5 billion in property taxes annually.

Barbara Kaplan Israel and Martin Israel are among those asked to pay by the appraiser.

At a hearing late last month, the Israelis – who are trying to sell their Magnificent Mile condo and list it for $3.3 million – agreed to pay back $67,197 including interest for the senior citizen tax freeze they In 2018 and 2019, the assessment office stated that they could not qualify.

They had previously paid just $4,966 in total property taxes for those two years after convincing the appraiser to lower the appraised value of their 3,300-square-foot condo during the renovation.

But the hearing officer who heard her case last month ruled that the Israelis met the requirements of a combined household income of under $65,000 to qualify for the senior citizen freeze for tax years 2016 and 2017 when they totaled $44,408 -Paid dollars in taxes.

The Israelis, whose taxes rose to $21,091 last year, agreed last month to pay for 2018 and 2019 after prosecutors reviewed their tax returns. They did not return any messages asking for comment.

Sarah Garza Resnick, Kaegi’s chief of staff, says that any exemptions the Israelis claim going forward will be subject to “detailed analysis” to ensure they qualify, although the office does not typically require senior freeze claimants File tax returns when they do so.

A convicted gangster who owned this home in Bridgeview died, but that didn’t stop someone from continuing to receive a property tax break on the home — for six years.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun Times

In another case, on November 15, 2013, Joseph J. Lombardi Sr. died, a convicted mobster who went to prison for his role in a loan shark operation, who signed the dead man’s name every year until 2019 and claimed he had an annual earned about $12,000. Tax bills for those years were paid with bank checks that didn’t require a signature.

The Lyons Municipality evaluator informed Kaegi’s office of Lombardi’s death in June 2019. But the assessor’s office went to the home to review it only on December 17, 2020.

“The 2020 application was submitted to our office in the name and driver’s license of Joseph Lombardi Sr.,” says Resnick.

On Jan. 27, Jason Pyle, the investigator for Kaegi, told a hearings officer that Lombardi’s daughter “was under the impression that at age 55 she was eligible for the senior citizen exemption.” She was wrong.”

There was no explanation as to how the exemption petitions continued to be signed on behalf of a man who had been dead for years.

The Lombardi estate was ordered to repay $16,271 for senior freeze exemptions granted to the property between 2016 and 2019.

Resnick says no payment was made, however, and the appraiser has since placed a lien on the property and referred the case to prosecutors for investigation.

Kaegi’s office stripped all exemptions from the Lombardi home, causing the tax bill to increase from $1,489 to $5,511 last year.

Lombardi’s daughter did not respond for comment.

Cook County Appraiser Fritz Kaegi's office on April 18 placed a lien on this apartment building on the 1700 block of South Racine Avenue to recover $90,552 in improper waivers plus interest from Mary Lou Aguilar, 89.  The lien gives the county a claim on the property, but it may have to wait until the property is sold to recover the back taxes.

The Office of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi placed a lien on this 1700 block South Racine Avenue apartment building on April 18 to recover $90,552 in improper waivers plus interest from Mary Lou Aguilar, 89. The lien gives the county a claim on the property, but it may have to wait until the property is sold to recover the back taxes.

In another case, on April 18, Kaegi’s office placed a lien on an apartment building on the 1700 block of South Racine Avenue to recover $90,552 in improper tax exemptions plus interest from Mary Lou Aguilar.

Aguilar received these tax breaks from 2014 to 2019 while the property was owned by a company controlled by her grandson. The tax breaks apply only to homeowners and seniors, not to businesses. The lien gives the county a claim to the property, but it may have to wait until the property is sold to reclaim back taxes.

Kaegi has stripped ownership of all exceptions. His tax bill shot up from $754 to $13,903 last year.

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi.

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi.

In other cases:

  • A retired veterinarian, Allen Cosnow, 84, has repaid $80,278 for “understating his income in filing” to receive a senior freeze and reduced his property taxes on his five-bedroom home in Glencoe between 2016 and 2019 . His tax bill last year was $17,722. He declined to comment.
  • Marc A. Taylor died in February 2020, leaving an estate that included a home in Rogers Park and two apartment buildings in Lincoln Park. All had liens filed by the appraiser in 2018 to reclaim $139,053 in taxes plus interest for tax credits he was not entitled to receive between 2010 and 2016.

One of the Lincoln Park buildings was sold last December and the county recovered $25,060 for the erroneous tax breaks. The other two liens remain outstanding, county records show.

  • The tax bill of an Uptown apartment building rose from $1,702 to $18,579 last year after Kaegi’s office found that it mistakenly did not update the valuation when owner Elvira Plass purchased the building from a relative. Because of the appraiser’s error, Plass received $117,592 in tax credits she shouldn’t have gotten, but she doesn’t have to pay it back. She declined to comment.
  • Gladys Dates, 89, a retired employee of the Chicago Police Department, successfully defended the senior ban she received for her Beverly home for two decades, according to the assessor, who said it miscalculated her tax break. Dates police pension totaled $67,000 in 2020, which appears to exceed income requirements to qualify for the freeze. But after a hearing, the assessor said she “met the income requirement.” Despite this, her tax bill increased from $1,217 to $3,047 last year. Deadlines could not be reached.
  • Young Woo Park, 68, and his wife, Im Soon Park, 69, were also determined to have met the income requirements for a senior stop. whose 2020 tax bill for her Morton Grove home on the 9400 block of Normandy Avenue dropped from $18,577 to $261. The tax advisor’s office says the drastic drop in their tax bill was due to a computer glitch that earned them an $18,043 tax break from the Senior Citizens Freeze. The error was corrected and the parks paid $16,954 last year. The parks could not be reached.
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