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.
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.