EDWARDSVILLE — Madison County officials have been notified the appellate court has ruled to remove the county from the class action suit filed by plaintiff attorneys against tax buyers who defrauded the victims of a bid-rigging scheme.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit against the individuals who conspired to fix bids in the sale of delinquent property taxes. They included Madison County as a defendant to have access to county taxpayer funds, an action applauded by Treasurer Kurt Prenzler.
“This ruling is a victory for Madison County taxpayers and a defeat for Kurt Prenzler, who urged the county to pay more than $1 million on behalf of criminals who defrauded the victims of the bid-rigging scheme,” Madison County Chairman Alan J. Dunstan said.
“Kurt (Prenzler) again has exercised poor judgment, supporting an action that would have cost county taxpayers and which would have been a jackpot for the lawyers,” Dunstan said. “We stood firm and fought back against the reckless plan he proposed. Now the appellate court has vindicated our decision and struck a blow to the Prenzler payout plan.”
In a news release from August 2015, and on several occasions since, Prenzler strongly recommended the county pay out more than $1.5 million of taxpayers’ money to settle the case.
“Once again, Mr. Prenzler was playing loose and fast with taxpayers’ money and, once again, he was wrong,” Dunstan said.
“Had we followed Mr. Prenzler’s plan, Madison County taxpayers would have, in effect, been paying for the corruption in the Treasurer’s Office when the blame and responsibility for restitution belongs to the criminal co-conspirators who secretly rigged the tax sales. Obviously, the court agrees.
“The appellate court confirmed what we have been saying since this case was initially filed; the parties directly involved in this criminal conspiracy are responsible and not Madison County government, or its public officials, nor the citizens of Madison County,” Dunstan said.
“Only the criminal co-conspirators who profited from this conspiracy, several of whom served prison sentences for this crime, should be made responsible for restitution to the victims,” he said. “Taxpayers should not have to pay the bill for corruption by tax buyers and their co-conspirator, the former treasurer. With this decision by the court, Madison County officials again have been exonerated of any liability and we now we have saved taxpayers from having to potentially pay millions of dollars in damages.”
Former Treasurer Fred Bathon was convicted Feb. 5, 2013, of manipulating the tax sales so his political contributors would earn the maximum legal interest rate of 18 percent. Bathon was released from federal prison in June 2015 after serving 18 months of a 30-month sentence.
Tax sales, which collect delinquent property taxes for distribution to school districts and other local government units, function as a reverse auction so property owners can pay lower interest rates to tax buyers, who profit by paying delinquent taxes and reaping the interest charges.