SPRINGFIELD — With his critics piling on, Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday he followed all of the rules when it came to obtaining a property tax break on a mansion he owns in Chicago.
Pritzker made the comment during an appearance at an Illinois State Police forensic center in Chicago. He was responding to reporters’ questions about a story on WBEZ radio, citing an anonymous source, that federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the governor, his wife and brother-in-law over the tax break obtained on the mansion.
Pritzker said that neither he nor his wife, M.K., have been contacted by law enforcement.
“Let me be clear that I’m very confident that any review of this matter will show that all the rules were followed,” he said.
WBEZ reported a law enforcement source said that an investigation was launched in October into the property tax break that Pritzker received on an unoccupied mansion he owns next to his home in Chicago. The radio station said there is no indication that criminal charges are imminent.
Pritzker obtained about $331,000 in property tax relief on the property after it was declared uninhabitable, in part because there were no toilets in the building.
However, a report from the Cook County inspector general that was disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times found M.K. Pritzker had directed workers to remove the toilets to have the building declared uninhabitable. The report also said the governor’s brother-in-law, Thomas Muenster, and M.K. Pritzker’s personal assistant made “false representations” on tax appeal documents.
Ultimately, the inspector general said there was a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers out of the $331,000 tax break. After the Sun-Times story appeared, Muenster paid the $331,000 cost of the tax break to Cook County.
Former Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to make the tax break an issue in last fall’s campaign for governor, saying that Pritzker had likely committed a crime. Pritzker cruised to an easy victory.
Republicans were quick to attack Pritzker following the WBEZ story.
“An Illinois governor under federal investigation 101 days into office must be a new record,” said state Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider, who accused Pritzker of dodging taxes with off-shore back accounts. “JB Pritzker can’t be trusted. Pritzker must immediately cease all of his efforts to raise taxes, including his graduated income tax, because he’s under federal criminal investigation for not paying his own taxes.”
Ideas Illinois, which opposes the graduated income tax, also said Pritzker should drop the idea.
“Governor Pritzker should immediately abandon his push for this massive jobs tax on middle class families because he can’t expect people to pay more when he is reportedly under criminal investigation for gaming the system to pay less,” said Ideas Illinois chairman Greg Baise.
Pritzker wants lawmakers to act this spring to put a graduated income tax amendment on the ballot in 2020. He’s also counting on new revenue from legalized marijuana sales, sports betting and a fee on plastic bags to help balance the budget this year. Pritzker gave no indication he plans to back off of any of that.
“The truth is we’re going to get it done,” he said. “All of these things will pass.”