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Madison County Treasurer may have broken law with 2013 tax sale

By   /  September 27, 2014  /  22 Comments

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Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler stood before tax buyers on Feb. 19, 2013 and announced that no bids would be accepted before or after the auction. He neglected to mention that the delinquent taxes of four properties were sold earlier that day.

Kurt Prenzler at a news conference he arranged on May 30 at the St. Clair County Administration Building / Photo by Roger Starkey

Kurt Prenzler at a news conference he arranged on May 30 at the St. Clair County Administration Building / Photo by Roger Starkey

By allowing three purchases to individual buyers prior to the start of the auction, Prenzler may have broken state law.

One person who bought unpaid taxes before the auction that year said he simply followed instructions given to him by Prenzler’s office.

“I was just following whatever policy the office had set out when I called,” James Craney said.

Craney bought the unpaid taxes of a home that, according to the Madison County Recorder’s Office, belongs to Don Weber and his former wife. Craney said he went to the front desk at the treasurer’s office, before the auction began, and bought the taxes as a favor to his friend, Weber.

“We wanted to make sure no one else could buy them (the outstanding taxes),” Craney said. “To prevent that, I bought them at Don’s request, to make sure she can stay in her house. This is a personal matter.”

Weber, a former Madison County State’s Attorney, challenged anyone who claimed his, Craney’s or Prenzler’s actions were wrong.

“There is nothing wrong with what was done, and if anyone says there was, I will sue them,” Weber said.

Illinois State law does not allow individual buyers to purchase delinquent taxes prior to the tax auction, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said.

Property statute 35 ILCS 200/21-205 identifies when taxes are to be sold and the treasurer’s responsibility.

“The collector, in person or by deputy, shall attend, on the day and in the place specified in the notice for the sale of property for taxes, and shall, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., or later at the collector’s discretion, proceed to offer for sale, separately and in consecutive order, all property in the list on which the taxes, special assessments, interest or costs have not been paid,” the statue indicates.

The law makes an exception for municipalities “interested in the collection of any tax or special assessment,” allowing them to purchase delinquent taxes prior to a sale. Individual buyers are not given this privilege.

Gibbons said the statute is unequivocal.

“When the statute says something shall be done in a particular way, that’s what the law requires,” Gibbons said.

No formal complaints against Prenzler for allowing early tax sales have been filed with the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office, Gibbons said. He was speaking with The Metro Independent on questions of law, not the facts of a particular case.

If Gibbons receives a complaint against Prenzler, he will refer it to the Illinois Attorney General, the United States Attorney for the Southern District and, if necessary, a special prosecutor, he said. As the Madison County State’s Attorney, Gibbons is an attorney for Prenzler as the Madison County Treasurer, representing a potential conflict of interest.

Craney, the City of Granite City, Royal Crown Properties, Inc. and Deborah Hawkins bought taxes prior to the auction and, therefore, not in consecutive order. Prenzler did not respond to a request for comment about why the three non-municipal buyers were allowed to purchase delinquent taxes before the auction.

Because Prenzler did not comment, The Metro Independent could not confirm his office’s 2013 policy for the sale of delinquent taxes prior to auction, known as single parcel purchases. The treasure’s website now clearly states the current policy.

“Single buyers are welcome to participate in the sale, however they are required to wait to bid until the parcel is called in order,” the site indicates.

The statue governing the tax sales is not a criminal statute, Gibbons said. Therefore, it is possible that Craney and Weber did not break any laws. Prenzler, however, may have committed official misconduct by allowing the sales.

Marleen Suarez, Prenzler’s opponent for Madison County Treasurer in the November election, said she was appalled by Prenzler’s “blatant disregard for the law.”

“Prenzler still campaigns on the fact that Fred Bathon went to prison for rigging tax sales. It is ironic that it appears Prenzler may have done the same thing for a political crony (Weber),” Suarez said. “I am saddened that Prenzler so readily violated the voter’s trust, when, of all people, he should know better.”

In addition to contributing $350 in the spring of 2014 to Prenzler’s campaign fund, the Belleville News Democrat reported on March 14 that Weber took partial credit for Prenzler winning the 2010 election for Treasurer.

“I helped him get elected,” Weber said, according to the newspaper.

The Edwardsville Intelligencer reported in December 2013 that Prenzler issued a news release praising Weber for his support of the treasurer.

“Don has an impressive history of serving this county and has consistently supported me in my efforts to reform the Treasurer’s Office,” Prenzler said in a news release, the newspaper reported.

The Metro Independent has been unable to uncover a link between Prenzler and Deborah Hawkins or the owner of Royal Crown Properties, Inc.

Other than to say he was doing a favor for a friend, whose former wife did not have enough money to pay the taxes, Craney would not comment further on why he, and not Weber, purchased the delinquent taxes on the home registered to Weber and his former wife.

“For an extensive background, you should contact Don Weber,” Craney said.

Weber asked why people were questioning the purchase of taxes outside the tax auction instead of praising him for the Christian deed of ensuring his former wife’s delinquent taxes were not purchased by an another tax buyer.

While unsuccessfully running for state representative for the 108th District in 2012, Weber loaned his own campaign $12,858.34. The total amount of unpaid taxes on the home and land in 2012 was $6,772.55, which is the amount Craney paid in February 2013 to purchase the tax liability.

Prenzler has often contrasted his tax sales to that of Fred Bathon, who was sentenced to prison in December 2013 after pleading guilty to rigging tax sales by giving favors to some campaign donors. Following Bathon’s sentencing, Weber is reported to have told the Madison-St. Clair Record, in a story published Dec. 6, 2013, that Prenzler will be known as the man who made Madison County tax sales honest again.

“For every Fred Bathon in public office, you have a Kurt Prenzler to make it right again,” Weber said, according to the newspaper.

 

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22 Comments

  1. zasmom says:

    I’m a little confused. If Weber was doing a “Christian” deed, then why did he not do it himself? And, if he really wanted to do something good for his ex-wife, why didn’t he just pay the taxes for her?

    • John Miller (false email provided) says:

      Comment deleted for invalid email address provided. This is the second time a person using this false name and email address has attempted to make false claims against Roger Starkey, but the person does not provide contact information.

  2. Jason Davis says:

    Mr. Starkey,

    This appears to be a bit of sensationalist journalism. Have you contacted other Treasurer’s Offices in Illinois to see if they do single buyers. Maybe you should call the lawyers for Joe Meyer who run the tax sales in most counties in Illinois, and see if any other counties allow single buyers. Also, maybe you should find if other Treasurers like Frank Miles, Bathon, Shimkus, etc. Honestly this article and many of your others on Prenzler seem like hit pieces for the Suarez campaign. Kurt is a good man who has exposed what many turned a blind eye too. I don’t know what you have against Mr. Prenzler, but it comes off very unprofessional. I really enjoy the metro independent other than these very wild accusations against Mr. Prenzler. I was planning on voluntarily subscribing, but this article really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    • Julie says:

      So now you’re turning a blind eye to Prenzler?

    • Jack says:

      Just because a prior corrupt Treasurer is in Jail does not mean we should stop paying attention to elected officials in office presently. Prenzler can’t finish a sentence without mentioning Fred Bathon. Now it appears that he suspends the rules for the benefit of his friends. Any Treasurer who did this after January 1, 2013 was breaking the law.

      This new law was created specifically to eliminate anyone getting “special” treatment. Prenzler was one of the loudest voices calling for change. What does he immediately do? He breaks the law to benefit his friends. This is hypocrisy at it’s most cynical worst. I guess when Prenzler says he “fixed” the auction, he meant he fixed it in more ways than one. Must be nice to be friends with “krooked kurt”

      • Daren (fake email address provided) says:

        This comment was removed because the person who claimed to be Daren made libelous remarks against Roger Starkey and did not provide a valid email address. This is the same person who made the same remark under a different false name and email address Saturday.

        Comments on The Metro Independent are not allowed if a valid email address is not provided. When a person attempts to libel another in a public forum, they should be held accountable. If The Metro Independent cannot contact the comment, misunderstandings cannot be rectified.

        This is a good time to remind all readers that libelous remarks, even ones that end with “this is a fact,” will not be allowed.

    • Stephen Jellen says:

      No county has legally done any such sales after 1 January 2013 because the revised property tax code expressly mandates that after that date all sales shall be done “separately and in consecutive order” during prescribed hours. Prenzler’s sale to Craney was apparently before the legal time and was taken out of order. It was a unique privilege granted to Craney and one other. It also precluded competitive bidding.
      Prenzler’s part in this is unequivocal. He broke the law for whatever reason. It remains to be seen whether Craney and Weber were really trying to do Virginia Weber a favor as they say. It begs the question of why didn’t one of them or all three of them just pay her taxes instead of initiating a process that will in a few months deprive her of title to her house?

    • Bob Rice says:

      Apparently the TRUTH HURTS. If your complaint was what they are reporting is wrong you’d have an argument. What you are complaining about is they told the truth, but by gum someone else probably did it too, so look the other way. That is EXACTLY how we got a Bathon and why Prenzler isn’t any better.

  3. Jason Davis says:

    My only question is who got hurt from this? The taxpayers did not get hurt. The taxes were purchased and all the taxing districts were able to be paid. The tax buyers were not going to make any money off of it at 0%, so they were not victims. The parcel would have gone for 0% no matter what. If Mr. Craney would have waited or not. This is nothing like what Fred Bathon did. Bathon took advantage of those who could not afford to pay their taxes. This is not a story. If the attorney general were to get involved then she would probably have to get dozens of Treasurers from around the state charged too. If this is such a big deal why isn’t Mr. Starkey looking at other Treasurers and accusing them of misconduct? I would love to hear that explanation. The BND, Telegraph, Post-Dispatch, and local TV are not picking up on this because it is clearly a hit piece. This is not journalism.

    • Stephen Jellen says:

      Mr. Davis, this is not a victimless crime. And we do not yet know what are the intents and purposes of the folks involved. Were they doing Virginia Weber a favor? If so, why didn’t they pay the taxes instead of initiating a process that will end in her losing title to her home.
      We also don’t know whether or not Prenzler got anything material out of it? Weber made sizable campaign contributions to Prenzler after the sale. We won’t know if these are part of a quid pro quo unless this is investigated by the authorities. Remember that Bathon’s crime looked normal business on the surface. Ignoring this is not in the public interest.

    • Kathryn says:

      I do not understand the apologists for Mr. Prenzler. He broke the law, possibly for person gain. Are ethics of such a low priority we only decry the criminal and unethical behavior of the now-jailed Bathon and ignore the criminal and unethical behavior of the currently treasurer? It makes no sense whatsoever.

  4. Bob Rice says:

    What caught my eye on all this is it appears to be Official Misconduct which is basis for the County Board to remove him from office. I find it further suspicious that Mr. Prenzler has not listed that particular Tax Sale on his web-site, WHY would that be. If the law, as I am reading it, was broken, then Prenzler should be held accountable. This is an ongoing problem with Prenzler and his office, first he got caught using County employees and property for his political attacks in St. Clair county of all places, then he blatantly uses county property for his own political agenda with the propaganda on the tax bills. He then FORGETS to file the Tax sale paperwork in 2012, costing the tax payer $100’s of thousands and tries to blame it on everyone else. He then claims the 3 employees the County took out of his budget and moved to another department as saving the County money even though it doesn’t, and claims it EVERY YEAR as though after the first year it multiplies, He apparently violates State law with an improper tax sale with someone who ends up being a political contributor and friend. Kurt says one thing and DOES EXACTLY the other and we tax payers end up paying and paying.
    IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE AND HONESTY.

  5. Jason Davis says:

    Mr. Prenzler should be scrutinized like every other public figure, but it should be fair. This article makes a lot of allegations, and some appear to be inaccurate. I went to the Madison County Treasurer’s website and looked at the tax sale in question and its report. The report shows Mr. Craney and Royal Crown Properties bought 1 parcel at 0%, but I do not see a Ms. Hawkins. Maybe it is something wrong with the report, but here is the link http://madcot.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/TaxYear2011BidDistributionByBuyer.pdf. It also appears that almost every year that their office has posted that at least one person bought only one parcel at 0%. Is this something that has happened for awhile?

    Also, a quick google search led me to the Sangamon County Treasurer’s Office, which posts that they allow single buyers before the sale. Here is the link, it is in the last paragraph: http://www.co.sangamon.il.us/Offices/treas/AnnualTaxSale.asp. I just think that it needs to be asked how many other counties in Illinois do this or have done it? How long has this tradition been in Madison County? This article makes it sounds like Prenzler did this for one year to help a political friend. I think more facts needed to be gathered before posting such an article. I really am trying to be fair and understand the facts. I would never defend breaking the law. I just feel like this article is lacking in some important details.

    • Jack says:

      Jason, you seem to misunderstand what has happned. The property was puchased before the auction took place. Sangamon County allows the single purchase buyers to go first, but it take place DURING the tax sale. I have copy and pasted from the Sangamon County website for you:

      “single Parcel Buyers
      Individuals who are interested in purchasing a single parcel are required to comply with all registration and deposit requirements. Persons who attend the tax sale to purchase a single parcel will be asked to step forward at the beginning of the sale. The parcel that the person is interested in will be auctioned off in the same manner as all other parcels but will be done at the beginning of the sale.”

      These purchases are still subject to competitive bidding and it is possible that someone else could be quicker to bid “zero”, especially with an automated bid system. Craney states that the taxes were purchased before the sale for the purpose of avoiding a competive bid.
      It is also important for you to understand, Jason, that Prenzler has since then stopped allowing single purchases. He now states that on his website. Why would he stop now?

      • Jason Davis says:

        But the law says it must happen in consecutive order, correct? I just want to clarify what exactly is being accused of official misconduct. Was it because it was before the tax sale? Was it because it was not in consecutive order? Does consecutive order mean parcel number order or alphabetical? The law seems to be not very specific. I remember former Treasurer Miles advocating for the law to have more detail when it came to tax sales. Also, was Ms. Hawkins one of these buyers? I don’t see her on any of the reports on the website, which is somewhat concerning since her name is now linked with this. I just want to fully understand this issue. I am open to all facts and explanations. It just appears there is a lot of assuming. Are any other outlets reporting on this? I would like to see if there is more reliable information before I can feel comfortable believing Mr. Prenzler intentionally broke the law. I am really just looking to be well informed on this.

        • Jack says:

          Jason, whether or not this is official misconduct is a determination yet to be made. The determination of what was, or was not, intentional is going to have to be determined by someone with stronger investigative powers than FOIA. What we do know is that an individual tax sale took place which was in violation of statutes regulating tax sales. The statute was brand new and was brought at the behest of both Frank Miles and Kurt Prenzler. It seems odd that Weber and Craney, both lawyers and Prenzler, a former lawyer who lost his license and a “CPA”, would be unaware of the law. That said, I will defer to the proper authorities to determine the nature of the violation and whether it was intentional

          • Jack says:

            Because I’m not sure if we are in disagreement, Jason, let me ask you this: Are you satisfied with the information you have, or, do you think that this situation deserves closer scrutiny?

          • Jason Davis says:

            I guess I just feel like the article is a bit misleading. Reading it you would think they are about to take Prenzler out in cuffs. Has a complaint been filed with the State’s Attorney? I am also curious how the State’s Attorney would not try and warn their client that the law had changed especially if it had been an ongoing practice. I think this is all a bit political, but I guess that’s life a month before an election. It could have been an honest mistake or maybe there was something wrong. I just think this article could have been written better. Also, I will be inquiring the County Clerk about Ms. Hawkins tomorrow if I do not hear from Mr. Starkey. I think if she was not involved that a full apology and redaction of her name from this article is in order. Where did this name come from? It is strange that the other two names are on the report, but not Ms. Hawkins.

            Also, thank you Jack for trying to explain. I hope I am not coming off as combative. I just feel like there is a bit of bias and not enough detail in this article. Although you have shed some light on additional details for me. Thank you.

          • Roger Starkey says:

            Jason
            If you want to hear from me in the future, the best way is to use the information on the Contact tab of The Metro Independent. I am only responding now because the answer to your question about Ms. Hawkins is not presented in the story or easy to find, unless you contact the correct person.

            I very, very strongly encourage you to contact the County Clerk’s office or the Treasurer’s office and ask for single parcel sales in 2013. You will find Ms. Hawkins listed as someone who was allowed to make a purchase before the auction began, which is contrary to Illinois state statute. It was later determined that delinquent taxes were not owed, which does not change the fact that the transaction occurred nor does it make the transaction exempt from full disclosure. Indeed, I’m sure I would be accused of even greater bias if I had not disclosed that the purchase took place.

            I did not accuse anyone of wrongdoing, so I’m unsure why you would ask for an apology on Ms. Hawkins behalf. The transaction is public record.

            For any other issues you have, including questions about my credibility and motives, I encourage you to contact me directly.

            Regards
            Roger

    • Bob Rice says:

      2 things, first your link from Prenzlers private non-county web-site shows the Tax Sale as if it happened all at once and not done improperly instead of on 2 different days, this in itself shows that Mr. Prenzler might be trying to cover up the fact it was done improperly. It also shows why he wants to run his own web-site and not let he County run it like all the rest of the elected officials. Second, your link leads to a very interesting second link that year where 100% of the taxes sold, were sold at the 18% rate, which by Mr. Prenzler previous logic and accusations, indicates someone is doing something illegal. http://madcot.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/TaxYear2012MHTaxSalesByBuyer.pdf He can’t have it both ways, no matter how hard he tries too and he can’t continue violating policy and laws no matter how much he claims he “didn’t do it”..

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