A wealthy couple have agreed to repay more than $67,000 in property tax relief they wrongly claimed over two years for their 58th floor condo at Water Tower Place.
The daughter of a dead mobster must repay $16,271 in tax breaks she got after her father’s name was repeatedly signed off on claims to cut property taxes on their Bridgeview home.
And an 89-year-old woman must repay $90,552 in property tax breaks for homeowners and seniors that she continued to enjoy even after her Pilsen apartment building was sold to a company controlled by her grandson .
After a series of Chicago Sun-Times reports revealed questionable tax breaks, the staff of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi ordered four people to repay a total of $254,298 for years of tax breaks they shouldn’t have gotten.
And, in a rare move for the assessor’s office, the dead mobster’s case was turned over to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to determine if any laws were broken in falsely claiming the exemptions, which which has reduced the house’s property tax bills.
Other homeowners have seen their property taxes skyrocket after Kaegi staff recalculated the exemptions they had claimed under one of the most lucrative property tax exemptions – the ‘senior freeze’. which can significantly reduce tax bills.
This tax relief caps property assessments for people age 65 or older whose household income is less than $65,000. The law creating this exemption was intended to protect seniors against rising property taxes in up-and-coming neighborhoods.
Two years ago, the assessor granted the master freeze for 144,904 properties, which transferred $250 million in property taxes on the other 1.77 million properties in Cook County. In total, Cook County taxpayers pay $15.5 billion a year in property taxes.
Barbara Kaplan Israel and Martin Israel are among those told to pay by the assessor.
At a hearing late last month, the Israelis – who are trying to sell their condo on the Magnificent Mile, listing it for $3.3 million – agreed to pay back $67,197, including interest, for the senior citizen tax freeze they claimed in 2018 and 2019 that the assessor’s office determined they did not qualify for.
They had previously paid a total of just $4,966 in property taxes for those two years after convincing the appraiser to reduce the appraised value of their 3,300 square foot condo while it was being renovated.
But the hearing officer who heard their case last month ruled the Israelis met the total household income requirement of less than $65,000 to be eligible for the senior citizen freeze for tax years 2016 and 2017, when they had paid a total of $44,408 in taxes.
The Israelis, whose taxes last year rose to $21,091, reached an agreement last month to pay for 2018 and 2019 after the state attorney’s office reviewed their tax returns. They did not return messages seeking comment.
Sarah Garza Resnick, Kaegi’s chief of staff, said any exemptions sought by Israelis in the future would benefit from “thorough analysis” to ensure they were eligible, although the office generally does not require not require senior freeze candidates to submit tax returns when reporting income.
In another of the cases, Joseph J. Lombardi Sr., a convicted mobster who went to jail for his role in a loan sharking operation, died Nov. 15, 2013. But someone continued to call for a freeze on the evaluation of the elderly on behalf of Lombardi. , signing the name of the deceased every year until 2019 and claiming that he earned around $12,000 a year. Tax bills for those years were paid with bank checks that did not require a signature.
The Lyon canton assessor alerted Kaegi’s office in June 2019 to Lombardi’s death. But the appraiser’s office did not visit the home to check it out until December 17, 2020.
“The 2020 application was submitted to our office with Joseph Lombardi Sr.’s name and driver’s license attached,” Resnick says.
On Jan. 27, Jason Pyle, Kaegi’s director of investigations, told a hearing officer that Lombardi’s daughter was “under the impression that at 55 they had become eligible for the senior exemption. She was wrong.
There was no explanation of how exemption requests continued to be signed in the name of a man who had been dead for years.
Lombardi’s estate was ordered to repay $16,271 for senior citizen 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 matter to the state’s attorney’s office for investigation.
Kaegi’s office stripped the Lombardi house of all exemptions, which saw the tax bill rise last year to $5,511 from $1,489.
Lombardi’s daughter did not return messages seeking comment.
In another case, Kaegi’s office placed a lien April 18 on an apartment building in the 1700 block of South Racine Avenue in an attempt to recover $90,552 in abusive exemptions, plus interest, from Mary Lou Aguilar. .
Aguilar got those tax breaks from 2014 to 2019 when the property was owned by a company controlled by his grandson. The tax breaks are only available for homeowners and seniors, not for businesses. The lien gives the county a claim on the property, but it may have to wait until the property is sold to collect back taxes.
Kaegi stripped the property of all exemptions. So his tax bill skyrocketed to $13,903 last year from $754.
In other cases:
- Retired veterinarian Allen Cosnow, 84, has been reimbursed $80,278 because he ‘understated his income on application’ to receive a seniors freeze and reduce his property taxes between 2016 and 2019 on his five bedroom house in Glencoe. 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 assessor in 2018 to recover $139,053 in taxes plus interest for tax relief he was not entitled to receive between 2010 and 2016.
One of the buildings in Lincoln Park was sold last December and the county recouped $25,060 for the misguided tax breaks. The other two liens remain outstanding, according to county records.
- An apartment building in Uptown saw its tax bill soar to $18,579 last year from $1,702 after Kaegi’s office discovered it mistakenly failed to update the assessment when the landlord Elvira Plass acquired the building from a relative. Due to the appraiser’s error, Plass got $117,592 in tax relief that she shouldn’t have gotten, but she won’t have to repay that. She declined to comment.
- Gladys Dates, 89, a retired Chicago Police Department employee, successfully defended the senior freeze she got for two decades on her Beverly home, according to the appraiser, who said that he had miscalculated his tax relief. Dates’ police pension was $67,000 in 2020, which appears to exceed the income requirements to qualify for the freeze. But, after a hearing, the assessor said she ‘met the income requirement’. Yet his tax bill rose to $3,047 last year from $1,217. The dates could not be reached.
- Young Woo Park, 68, and his wife Im Soon Park, 69, also determined they had met the income requirement for a seniors freeze. whose tax bill for their Morton Grove home in the 9400 block of Normandy Avenue fell from $18,577 to $261 in 2020. The assessor’s office says the drastic decrease in their tax bill was due to a computer error that gave them an $18,043 tax break for their senior freeze. The error was corrected and the Parks paid $16,954 last year. The parks could not be reached.