From a condo in the Trump Tower to a bungalow in Berwyn and everywhere in between, property owners across Cook County are in for a surprise. A new state law allows counties to go after property tax cheats and hit them where they live. Literally.
"These individuals have gone as far as taking homeowners exemptions on every property they own, fraudulently. And then they turn around and request senior exemptions on these properties," Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios told NBC 5 Investigates.
An amnesty period that allowed alleged cheats to step forward and pay their tax bills with no penalties is now over, and the Berrios is working with Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough in a first-of-its-kind crackdown to get liens filed against accused offenders.
"We're at $10 million billed and collected and hopefully at the end of the year we will double that," Berrios said.
NBC 5 Investigates was there when Berrios turned over a stack of newly-filed liens to Yarbrough. Those liens represent about $100,000 in fraudulent tax exemptions -- paid for by taxpayers
"The average taxpayer in Cook County, because of these people who were stealing money, were paying an additional $75 a year," according to Berrios.
The crackdown is the result of a state law spearheaded by Berrios, who says it took him three years to get it passed in Springfield. Prior to the law, scofflaws received a $75 fine, an amount Yarbrough considers a slap on the wrist,
"We see it every day. All kinds of people. Whatever they can get away with, they will try to get away with it," Yarbrough says. "It's just simply not fair and everybody ought to care!"