Metro-East News

Bathon gets year shaved off prison sentence

Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon announces he will not seek re-election in 2010. He was speaking at the Madison County Administration Building Thursday. Shown in the background is a photo of the old county courthouse.
Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon announces he will not seek re-election in 2010. He was speaking at the Madison County Administration Building Thursday. Shown in the background is a photo of the old county courthouse. File photo

Madison County’s former treasurer, Fred Bathon, is getting out early from federal prison, where he’s been serving a term for rigging the sales of delinquent tax bills.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons now lists Bathon’s discharge date as June 25, 2015, rather than 2016. Records show that Bathon already has been transferred to a residential re-entry facility in St. Louis.

In December 2013, U.S. District Judge David Herndon sentenced Bathon to two years and six months in federal prison.

Court records show that, in November, federal prosecutors in the case filed a sealed motion, which was not public. Herndon granted the prosecutors’ request.

U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton’s office declined comment on Tuesday.

That type of scenario is often an indication that a defendant got a break on his sentence in exchange for helping investigators or prosecutors.

Bathon pleaded guilty to orchestrating a scheme that resulted in property owners paying the maximum penalty — 18 percent — when they were late paying their property taxes.

In Illinois, investors, known as tax buyers, can pay a person’s property tax debt. The tax buyers make money by charging the property owners a penalty rate, or, if the property owner doesn’t eventually pay up, the tax buyer can take the property.

The penalty rate for each piece of property is determined at the treasurer’s annual tax sale. In most counties, the sale is conducted like a reverse auction, where buyers undercut each other with lower bids.

But witnesses say Bathon conducted the auction like a bid opening. Multiple buyers would simultaneously shout 18 percent, then Bathon’s office would award the bid to whichever buyer appeared to shout first. Buyers weren’t able to continue the bidding to undercut each other or “bid down” the penalty percentage.

The winning bidders were often contributors to Bathon’s political fund.

Three tax buyers — John Vassen, Scott McLean and Barret Rochman — also were charged in the scheme and pleaded guilty. Those three, who are still serving their sentences, were some of Bathon’s biggest campaign donors.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2475. Follow him on Twitter: @B_Brueggemann.

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