When Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler stood in front of the St. Clair County Administration Building at 1 p.m. Friday, he strongly insinuated, but stop short of accusing, St. Clair County Treasurer Charles Suarez of wrongdoing while in office. That Prenzler and some staff members compiled the information distributed to the media using Madison County taxpayer time and resources is justified, Prenzler said, because the investigation was part of his duties as Madison County Treasurer.
“I consider an analysis of tax sales of neighboring counties to be within my duties and responsibilities as treasurer,” Prenzler said in an emailed statement. “If a treasurer in an adjoining county was arrested for a D.U.I., it would not fall within my duties and responsibilities as treasurer.”
Prenzler indicated at the press conference that he was contacted by St. Clair County resident Ken Brosh to review records of St. Clair County tax sales to determine if there might be similarities to Madison County tax sales that sent Fred Bathon to federal prison on charges of conspiring to eliminate competitive bidding at tax sales.
“Because of my experience with tax sales, I am qualified to perform this analysis,” Prenzler said.
Prenzler has presided over four tax sales in his time as treasurer. There is a pending lawsuit from the 2012 tax sale because the necessary court order was not obtained prior to the sale. Prenzler said obtaining the court order is primarily the responsibility of State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, as noted in duty 12 of the State’s Attorney’s responsibilities listed in 55 ILCS 5/Div. 3-9 heading Division 3-9.
Prenzler acknowledged that he spent time performing analysis in the office, but said the “use of my brain didn’t cost extra for the taxpayers.” He acknowledged that he recevied help compiling the data, but would not share the names of those who helped. After being informed that The Metro Independent intended to report that Treasurer’s Office staff member Sam Borders assisted him, Prenzler said Borders performed the work on his own time.
Prenzler was then informed that there was evidence that Borders copied files to compact discs Friday morning before the press conference. After researching the issue, Prenzler issued the following statement via email.
“Sam Borders used his computer to burn several CDs pertaining to tax sales statistics.”
Files in the CD provided by another Prenzler staff member, David Hulme, to The Metro Independent at the press conference appear to show more work was done at the Treasurer’s office than just burning files to CDs.
Borders appears to have been the last person to modify eight of the 20 documents later loaded onto the CD, with the last modifications occurring the morning of the press conference. On the morning of May 30, Borders also appears to have printed three of the four documents later distributed to media members as part of a packet, along with the CD, at the press conference.
David Hulme is recorded as the author of two documents, one created on May 29 at 1:04 p.m. and another on May 30 at 10:05 a.m. The computer of former staffer Darren Conway appears to have been used to create a document on May 29 at 1:03 p.m. Modifications were made to documents at 3:21 pm. Thursday May 29.
Prenzler maintains that the work was in line with the duties of his department and the focus on the use of taxpayer funds to compile the research takes away from what should be the focus, the tax sales in 2006 and 2007 of Saurez.
The tax sale and political contribution documentation insinuates wrongdoing on the part of Suarez in exchange for campaign donations for the years in question. Prenzler has repeatedly stopped short of accusing Saurez, however, saying only the data speaks for itself.
The data shows higher weighted average tax sales in 2006 and 2007 and that Suarez accepted campaign donations, over multiple years, from tax buyers who often purchased delinquent taxes at the statutory maximum of 18 percent. Comparisons are made between donors to Bathon and Suarez those years, as well as the increased weighted average percentage for tax sales those two years.
No conclusions are drawn from the data and no comparisons are done with other Illinois counties for those years to determine if there may be an explanation for the rate spike other than Saurez giving favors to donors. Asked why the trend suddenly ended for tax year 2008, Prenzler said, “I ran for office in 2010.” The 2008 tax sale was conducted in 2010.
Suarez acknowledged receiving campaign contributions from tax buyers in the past, but said he stopped for fear it could be perceived as a conflict with his official duties. He said his office has done some preliminary investigation into the cause of the rate jump in 2006 and 2007, but no conclusions have been finalized.
“I have always conducted my tax sales honestly and ethically,” Suarez said. “I have never received a single complaint from any law enforcement agency about my sales.”
Prenzler called the press conference before presenting the results of the research to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Stephen Wigginton. Asked if Wigginton was the correct investigative authority, Prenzler replied that he was not sure, but, Wigginton was the person handling the Bathon prosecution.
A spokesperson for Wigginton’s office said no statements about the documentation would be made this week because the primary spokesperson is away. As of Wednesday afternoon, neither Prenzler nor Suarez had heard from Wigginton’s office on the matter.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said he has never received a complaint of wrongdoing against Saurez.
“No law enforcement agency has been alerted to any criminality in the treasurer’s office whatsoever, nor have any allegations been made during the years of the Bathon investigation,” Kelly said.