2 Cook County employees charged with corruption

July 18, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The corruption case du jour involves two men who worked as analysts in the Cook County Board of Review office, where property owners go to appeal their tax assessments.

Wednesday night, the pair is charged with taking bribes from taxpayers and rigging the process so their taxes would be lowered.

The motto of the Board of Review is: "Ensuring fair property taxes throughout Cook County."

For the property owners who worked with these Board of Review employees, there was nothing fair about it, according to federal investigators. John Racasi and Thomas Hawkins are accused of taking payoffs to fix lower taxes.

Racasi, who is paid $45,000 a year, and Hawkins, who makes $60,000, according to county records, worked for Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers, Jr.

Rogers is identified in Wednesday's charges only as "Commissioner A" and is not accused of wrongdoing.

According to these federal charges, the two men had a price list of payoffs - $150 per pin number, and another $150 when the reduction was complete.

They are charged in one case of accepting $1,500 in bribes to obtain a $14,000 tax reduction.

Federal investigators Wednesday night say they also talked in code. When they said "lunch", it really meant a payoff meeting. "Bring some lettuce" meant to bring cash. A lettuce fund was actually a cash stash used for bribes. "Serious fives" were more lucrative commercial properties "Blanks" were the forms they allegedly rigged to appeal taxes.

And the big man was John Racasi, who Wednesday, with Thomas Hawkins, his half-brother, declined to speak with ABC7 as they left the Dirksen Federal Building.

A statement from Commissioner Rogers and his two co-commissioners released late Wednesday afternoon calls them "serious charges" against the two employees, who have been "suspended without pay."

The two men charged were each released on $10,000 bond.

Prosecutors say they have numerous undercover audio and video tapes of the scheme in progress, and the case relies heavily on an unnamed, apparently corrupt Chicago police officer who has been working undercover for the FBI. This is the same police officer who was undercover in the story Tuesday in which seven people were charged.

Below is a statement from Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry R. Rogers Jr.:

"It was sad to learn today that two former employees of the Board of Review have been accused of violating the public's trust while assigned to my office. As an elected official, I am held to a high standard and I have always held my employees to the same high standard. While the announcement today from the US Attorney's Office was the first time I was made aware of these charges, I have great respect for the legal process and will assist that process in any way I can. During my tenure at the board of review, I have had dozens of employees assigned to my office at various times. The actions of two Individuals, if proven, should in no way diminish the tremendous work of vast majority of work done by public servants."

Complaint against Hawkins and Racasi (PDF)

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