Editorials

Madison County taxpayers off hook for corruption, but ‘exoneration’ for leaders?

Former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon was convicted of defrauding delinquent taxpayers by getting campaign cash from tax buyers in exchange for allowing buyers to charge inflated penalties. The appellate court just allowed the Madison County government to be separated from the delinquent taxpayers’ class-action lawsuit.
Former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon was convicted of defrauding delinquent taxpayers by getting campaign cash from tax buyers in exchange for allowing buyers to charge inflated penalties. The appellate court just allowed the Madison County government to be separated from the delinquent taxpayers’ class-action lawsuit. snagy@bnd.com

Madison County government is a unique place, maybe the only set of offices in the nation where there’s no jealousy, no backbiting, no water-cooler rumors and no intrigue. Amazing for a place that at its foundation is political, right?

The county’s standing as a “no gossip zone” is the only conclusion one can reach based on the fact that no one claims to have known what corrupt, disgraced and convicted former treasurer Fred Bathon was up to when he conspired with tax buyers to defraud 9,299 delinquent property taxpayers between 2005 and 2008. Bathon and three tax buyers went to federal prison for scheming to charge the maximum penalty rate of 18 percent on the delinquent property taxes in exchange for campaign cash to Bathon.

It was a conspiracy happening right in front of county employees from multiple offices. It was a “public” auction involving dozens of people shouting out bids of how much they wanted to profit from tardy taxpayers. It was videotaped.

But for four years and four auctions and nearly 10,000 instances we are to believe that no one in a leadership position knew what was going on and tried to stop it?

“With this decision by the court, Madison County officials again have been exonerated of any liability and we now have saved taxpayers from having to potentially pay millions of dollars in damages,” Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said this week.

That is a very generous interpretation of what the Fifth District Appellate Court said on Monday. The appellate decision allowed Madison County to be dismissed as a defendant in the class-action lawsuit filed by the taxpayers defrauded by Bathon.

What the court really said was that county government did not financially benefit from the Bathon scheme, so it should not be party to paying the restitution. There is a difference between Madison County officials being “exonerated of any liability” and being exonerated of culpability for not knowing and not stopping Bathon.

It’s great that taxpayers will not again be victimized by Bathon and Co., but Madison County leaders either knew and failed to act against their guy, or they are truly angelic office denizens who never speak ill of their fellow travelers. That distinction and any exoneration will come from the court of public opinion.

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