Judge: Bathon's bid-rigging victims won't be getting money back

News-DemocratApril 23, 2013 

— Several thousand Madison County property owners, the victims of ex-Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon's bid-rigging scheme, sustained a setback when U.S. District Judge David R. Herndon upheld a government request that it not be forced to tally the losses suffered by each of Bathon's individual victims.

In an order issued Monday, Herndon wrote that "it is highly impracticable to perform a complete accounting of the losses to each individual given the complex issues of fact related to the large number of victims."

As a result, Herndon decreed that the government not be required to expend any more resources to determine the amount of restitution owed to each victim.

Herndon's ruling came in response to a motion filed Monday by Wigginton and Steven D. Weinhoeft, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case against Bathon.

Wigginton and Weinhoeft asked through their motion that the government be excused from having to set up a restitution system on the grounds 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."

What's more, according to the prosecutors' motion, "the Government has exercised its 'best efforts' to accord crime victims their rights and no additional resources should be expended in determining restitution for each of the thousands of victims in the case."

Kurt Prenzler, the Madison County treasurer, released a statement Tuesday in which he said he had worked with the office of Stephen Wigginton, the U.S. attorney for Southern Illinois, to estimate that the Bathon victims' losses exceeded $4 million.

"What no one can determine is the emotional cost of losing your home," Prenzler said. "I've been privileged to be part of the solution to this dark chapter in Madison County's history."

Prenzler declined to comment about Herndon's ruling on the setting up of a restitution system.

In February, 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 the county's annual tax lien auction.

Bathon, who has been cooperating with federal investigators to bring evidence against alleged co-conspirators, is scheduled to appear before Herndon for his sentencing.

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.

In early March, Herndon shot down an early motion by federal prosecutors to let them off the hook for determining the amount of restitution owed to Bathon's victims on the grounds that such a system would be too complicated.

But in his March ruling, Herndon noted that the government had failed to consult Prenzler, a Republican, who believes the taxpayers incurred $4 million in losses.

Madison County retained the law firm of Sandberg Phoenix and Von Gontard to defend it against three class-action lawsuits that name as defendants Bathon, the county and the tax buyers who were some of Bathon's biggest campaign donors.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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