EDWARDSVILLE — Republicans on the Madison County Board plan to press ahead with a probe of the county's property tax auctions over the objections of State's Attorney Bill Mudge.
Late last month County Board member Jean Myers, R-Troy, and Chris Slusser, R-Wood River, held a news conference outside the county courthouse during which they planned to launch an investigation based on a recently published News-Democrat investigation.
The newspaper stories showed that former Madison County Fred Bathon took in about $140,000 in campaign donations from investors who bought delinquent property tax debts.
Those investors were routinely allowed to buy property owners' tax debts at an 18 percent penalty rate - the maximum allowed under state law. The investors took in up to $200,000 apiece in penalties for some years, the newspaper reported.
Mudge, in an Oct. 4 letter, urged Myers to halt her investigation on the grounds it could jeopardize criminal probes being conducted by U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Myers and her Republican colleagues should refrain from their investigation, "unless it is your intention to improperly politicize and potentially jeopardize a professional investigation led by trained and sworn law enforcement agencies," Mudge wrote.
What is more, Mudge wrote, "You and your group lack the expertise to investigate allegations of corruption involving public officials, and have no legal authority to do so."
Mudge, a Democrat, did not return phone calls to his office.
Myers and Slusser, however, branded Mudge's letter an attempt to shield fellow Democrats from embarrassment during the last weeks before the Nov. 2 election.
"That's why they keep telling us, `You need to keep quiet about this. You need to keep quiet about this,'" Myers said. "We're saying it's because of the election. And they don't want people to know how they've done this cover-up."
Slusser noted that the alleged abuses of the tax sale system occurred during the eight years that Mudge served as the county's state's attorney.
And with Mudge set to leave the state's attorney's office for a new job as a circuit court judge, "He's ready to put this behind him and become a judge and let somebody else deal with it," Slusser said.
Myers said her investigation will center on complaints obtained through a telephone hotline and access to public documents in the offices of current Treasurer Frank Miles and County Clerk Mark Von Nida.
One of the most important things is to help the Madison County property owners who are about to lose their houses to tax buyers who had bought up their taxes, Myers said.
"Those people that have had their taxes sold and have not been able to redeem them and are in jeopardy of losing their property or even their home," she said.
For his part, Slusser, a former police officer, said he wants to find out which county officials knew about problems with the tax sales under Bathon.
"All I want is anything that should be made public, I want it to be made public," he said. "My ultimate goal is get justice for the people who've been screwed over."
Story published 10/18/10. Contact Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2533.