Former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon has spared taxpayers the time and expense of a trial by pleading guilty to conspiracy involving rigged delinquent property tax sales. Too bad he didn't have that consideration for the property taxpayers he ripped off while in office.
Politicians ripping off the public is nothing new, but Bathon's crime is particularly despicable because he exploited county property taxpayers who were already down. From 2005 until 2009, instead of auctioning their overdue tax bills to the lowest bidder, he let some buyers who contributed to his campaign fund charge the highest interest rate the law allowed. The property owners, already in financial distress, had to pay those sky-high penalty rates or lose their property.
Bathon's crime was all about his financial gain, and so there's some justice in knowing his punishment will include losing his $88,000-a-year state pension. In addition, he should be ordered to make full restitution.
What we don't understand is the talk by the U.S. attorney about giving Bathon a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation. The implication is that some tax buyers will face charges as a result of that cooperation.
We might understand if Bathon were a marginal figure in this and his testimony helped bring down bigger fish. But Bathon is the big fish. If some tax buyers colluded with him, it was only possible because Bathon created the opportunity.
Maybe the U.S. attorney plans to use Bathon to go after other Madison County politicians who had to know what was going on, or pursue yet-to-be identified crimes. If that's the case, it might be worth continuing to play let's make a deal with Bathon.