Bathon co-conspirators begin serving prison terms

News-DemocratApril 23, 2014 

Former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon.

STEVE NAGY/BND

Two metro-east businessmen who conspired with ex-Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon to defraud taxpayers have started serving their prison sentences at the federal minimum security prison camp in Marion.

John Vassen, 57, a Belleville attorney and real estate agent, and Scott McLean, whose tax-buying firm is based in East St. Louis, last month reported to the Southern Illinois prison camp. Vassen is serving a two-year sentence, McLean 18 months.

Vassen and McLean were sentenced for their roles in the bid-rigging scheme orchestrated by Bathon, who oversaw Madison County's sale of delinquent property taxes.

Bathon, 59, is serving a 30-month prison sentence at the minimum security camp in Terre Haute, Ind.

A third tax-buyer who conspired with Bathon -- Barrett Rochman, 71, of Makanda -- received a 16-month sentence in late March. Rochman has not yet reported to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his sentence.

At his sentencing hearing, Rochman requested that he, too, serve out his prison term at the Marion prison camp. David Herndon, the federal judge presiding over the hearing, said he would make a non-binding recommendation to the prison bureau to send Rochman to the Marion camp.

At least 10,000 county property owners were forced to pay excessive interest penalties and fees because of Bathon's scheme, which flourished between 2005 and 2009, court records show.

During the annual tax sale in each Illinois county, investors buy the right to pay the delinquent taxes of property owners.

Property owners who don't repay the taxes, as well as a penalty to the investors, can lose their property. The penalty rate is supposed to be determined through competitive bidding to see which investor is willing to accept the lowest rate.

Under Bathon's auction procedure, all the bidders would shout an opening bid. The one who shouted the lowest bid first was declared the winner.

In most cases, each buyer would simultaneously shout 18 percent, the maximum allowed under the law. In some years under Bathon, almost every single tax bill was sold at the 18 percent penalty rate.

Bathon and his co-conspirators made a secret pact whereby Bathon made sure their bids were the winning bids. Bathon profited in the form of campaign contributions, most of which came from tax-buyers who had conspired with him in the bid-rigging scheme.

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