Illinois' new governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, has only been in office a few months, but he's already following the proud Illinois gubernatorial tradition of being investigated by the federal government. This time, though, it's not a public corruption investigation — it's a probe into whether Pritzker and his wife deliberately removed toilets from their Chicago mansion to avoid paying around $300,000 in property taxes.
WGN News reports that the Feds are looking into claims, which surfaced during the Illinois gubernatorial campaign last year, that Pritzker's wife, MK, directed contractors to remove all of the toilets from a mansion the pair were remodeling in Chicago's tony Gold Coast neighborhood so that the mansion could be declared "uninhabitable." The move allegedly reduced the value of the home by $5 million and the Pritzkers' tax burden by $331,000.
"The report also found that [Pritzker aide Christine] Lovely and the governor’s brother-in-law, Thomas J. Muenster, made 'false representations' on tax appeal documents," WBEZ adds. The pair reportedly declared to the county that that the home had no working bathrooms for the two years prior to the toilet removal project, which allowed the Pritzkers to reclaim around $132,000 in taxes they'd already paid to Cook County.
The Cook County IG that issued the report called the incident a "scheme to defraud taxpayers," and suggested that the Pritzkers could be guilty not just of lying to tax assessors, but of perjury and mail fraud.
When the reports surfaced in the form of an inspector general's report released in October, Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune with a net worth of approximately $3.2 billion, cut Cook County a check for the missing money, with a note that said the "gift" was “in no way an admission of any wrongdoing.”
The Pritzkers also said at the time that they did have at least one working toilet in the home.
Simply repaying the county $331,000 doesn't absolve Prtizker or his wife of attempting to commit tax fraud, and, shortly after the IG report surfaced in October, the federal government began an official inquiry into what, precisely, the Pritzkers were trying to do.
Pritzker wrote off the tax fraud claims during the campaign as "politically motivated." Through a spokesperson, Pritzker told media that he does not believe he or his wife engaged in any wrongdoing.
"Neither the Governor nor the First Lady have been contacted by law enforcement regarding the property tax appeal,” the spokesperson, a high-powered attorney whose firm worked with Pritzker during the campaign, told WBEZ. “We are confident that any further review of the matter will show that the appropriate rules were followed.”
Pritzker himself told media that he has “no concerns at all” about the probe and that he knows as much about the federal government's investigation as reporters do: "what I know is what you all know from the reporting that was done this week.”
The news of an Illinois governor under federal investigation may not be very novel — many of the state's former governors often live out their "retirement" behind bars — but this one comes at a particularly fraught time for Illinois and for the governor, who is trying to convince Illinois residents that a significant tax hike is needed in order to address the state's overwhelming financial issues.
Pritzker is proposing changing the state's "flat" income tax to a graduated income tax in order to ensure that the state's rich pay their "fair share." His Republican opposition have already pointed out — quite cleverly — that even given the opportunity, it appears Pritzker — one of the state's wealthiest businessman — may have resorted to breaking the law in order to avoid paying his own fair share to the citizens of Cook County.