Thousands of property taxpayers snared in a fraud scheme by former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon and his co-conspirators scored a crucial victory in federal court.
U.S. District Judge David Herndon denied a federal prosecutor's motion that the government not be required to perform a complete accounting of losses suffered by individual victims of Bathon, a Democrat.
Last month Bathon, 58, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to rigging the tax sale auctions of delinquent property taxpayers, forcing them to pay millions of dollars in excessive interest penalties to tax buyers who bought the properties at auction.
Assistant U.S. attorney Steven Weinhoeft, in a motion filed in late February, had argued that a "complete accounting of each victim's losses is not practicable due to the complex issues of fact related to the large number of victims."
In addition, the federal government has exercised its "best efforts" to accord the victims their rights to restitution and "no additional resources should be expended in determining restitution for each of the thousands of the victims in this case," Weinhoeft wrote.
Weinhoeft has estimated at least 10,000 tax bills were affected by Bathon's bid-rigging scam.
But Herndon, in an order issued Friday, noted that the government failed to consult current Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, a Republican, who has stated he believes the taxpayers incurred $4 million in losses.
"Perhaps Mr. Prenzler is just puffing but he might be serious, so Mr. Prenzler should first be consulted," which the government could inform the court of the result in an amended motion, Herndon wrote.
Bathon faces 30-41 months in federal prison during his sentencing set for late May, although that sentence could be cut based on his level of cooperation with federal authorities.
Late last month, a lawsuit seeking class-action status was been filed against Madison County over Bathon's handling of the annual delinquent tax sales.
The suit was filed in Madison County by St. Jacob attorney John Barberis and Collinsville attorney Steve Giacoletto. For now, the only named plaintiffs are Scott and Dawn Bueker, of St. Jacob, Jason and Christine Moss, of Collinsville, and Guideon Richeson, of Troy.
But the plaintiffs are asking the court to certify the suit as a class-action on behalf of any Madison County property owners whose tax bills were included in the county's tax sales from 2005-09.
Named as defendants, along with the county, are Bathon and certain buyers of the delinquent tax bills: John Vassen, Dennis Ballinger, Robert Luken, John Scott, Scott McClean and Edward Beasley.