A federal judge has chosen not to impose sanctions against St. Clair County residents who claimed in a lawsuit that Treasurer Charles Suarez had rigged the county’s annual property tax auctions
U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle ruled the plaintiffs were not abusing the legal system, and therefore should not be punished with court sanctions.
Yandle ruled on Jan. 28 that a lawsuit originally filed in Oct. 2014 on behalf of four plaintiffs from O’Fallon, and in which they alleged that Suarez rigged the auctions to benefit his campaign donors, should not be punished. Yandle issued the ruling in response to a motion for sanctions filed in November 2014 by Suarez.
In his motion for sanctions, Suarez had argued that the four plaintiffs — John and Adrienne Bloyer, and Kevin and Kathleen Dvorak, both of O’Fallon — should be penalized because their claim as to Suarez’s alleged scheme had no “evidentiary support” and “simply mimicked” the allegations of their attorneys’ class-action lawsuit against Madison County, former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon and others in Madison County government.
The plaintiffs, through their attorney Nelson L. Mitten, responded in court filings that the state’s rule on court sanctions does not require them to show “that they have evidence to make out a prima facie case at the early pleading stage,” Yandle wrote. “The Court agrees.”
Mitten did not return calls seeking comment.
The two St. Clair County couples filed their lawsuit against Suarez in late October 2014, just a few weeks before the election between Suarez, a Democrat, and Rodger Cook, his Republican challenger. Suarez won re-electon and has not faced any criminal charges.
No evidence of any criminal conduct was uncovered, Suarez said a week after his successful re-election.
“There never was any investigation of my tax sale or me,” he said.
There never was any investigation of my tax sale or me.
Charles Suarez, St. Clair County treasurer
The lawsuit against Suarez was filed in October 2014 by Mitten and three other lawyers who are also representing plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits against Madison County, former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon and a list of tax buyers who, according to those lawsuits, rigged Madison County tax auctions between 2005 and 2009.
Also originally named as defendants in the federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis were St. Clair County government and tax buyers Barrett Rochman, of Makanda; John Vassen, of Belleville; and Scott McLean, of Belleville.
All three tax buyers have pleaded guilty to a federal bid-rigging charge and were sentenced to prison sentences ranging between 16 and 24 months. The charges involved tax sales in Madison County.
Bathon, who also pleaded guilty to a federal bid-rigging charge, was sentenced to a 30-month prison term at the minimum-security federal prison camp in Terre Haute, Ind.
Court records show that federal prosecutors in the case later filed a sealed motion, which was not public. Herndon granted the prosecutors’ request to shave a year off his sentence, giving him a release date of June 25, 2015.