EDWARDSVILLE — Treasurer Kurt Prenzler is calling for attorneys who represent the 7 to 10,000 victims of the criminal tax sales to refuse any legal fees from Madison County, which is a defendant in the lawsuit.
“Yes, former treasurer Fred Bathon and three tax buyers spent some time in prison for rigging tax sales, but that doesn’t help these homeowners,” Prenzler said. “They were defrauded out of more than $4 million, and that doesn’t even consider those who lost their homes. It’s been nearly 10 years since these criminal tax sales started, and the victims have not received one cent.”
County Board Member Kelly Tracy filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Sept. 10, requesting email and telephone records shared between Prenzler, his staff and attorney Don Weber, one of the attorneys representing the victims of the tax sales. Tracy claimed the reason Prenzler is calling for restitution is that he wants to see legal fees go to his friend Weber.
Prenzler responded this week to Tracy’s FOIA that no public records were found.
“Her allegation is ridiculous,” he said. “I am being criticized for my opinion that the victims of the criminal tax sales should receive restitution. It’s a case of ‘shoot the messenger.’
“The tax sales were part of my 2006 campaign and I thought after that things would change. Unfortunately, nothing changed.”
The issue of restitution remains open and one tax buyer, at his sentencing, offered to pay the victims. He offered to write a check in the amount of $1.1 million in restitution, but the federal judge said the issue would need to be decided in the class action lawsuit in state courts.
The lawsuit named a number of tax buyers, Madison County and various elected officials. The suit alleges key county officials saw what took place, but did nothing to stop it.
“Just like a trucking company is liable if its driver negligently causes injury to others, Madison County may be liable for the negligence of county officials,” Prenzler said.
Prenzler said county officials continued to do nothing after knowing there was suspicious activity at the tax sales. As a result many delinquent taxpayers paid millions of dollars in exorbitant and unnecessary fees, he said.
Prenzler is calling for the attorneys who represent the victims to voluntarily refuse any legal fees from defendant Madison County, and that all legal fees earned be recovered from the tax buyers, who financially benefitted from the rigged tax sales.
“My main desire is for the victims to receive restitution,” he said. “If the legal fees are an obstacle, I’m asking the attorneys to remove that obstacle by not taking the fees from the county.”