The property tax history of Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts' home in suburban Wilmette is under investigation, after the Chicago Tribune found an apparent discrepancy between the information submitted in a 2013 property tax appeal and the recently-constructed home.
Ricketts, a member of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs and the Republican National Committee finance chair, and his wife Sylvie Légère purchased the nearly century-old, 2,500-square-foot home in Wilmette for nearly $1.5 million in 2006, according to the Tribune.
The following year, they purchased the property next door for $869,000, the Tribune reports. Both houses were subsequently torn down, with a new 5,000-square-foot home constructed beginning in 2007 and completed by February 2010, the Tribune found by examining village records.
In approving a building permit for the construction of the new home in 2007, the Village of Wilmette sent details of the build to the New Trier Township assessor’s office, and subsequently the Cook County assessor's office, village and township officials told the Tribune. When that information arrives in the Cook County assessor's office, it should trigger an reinspection, which determines a property's assessed value - based on characteristics like location, the home's size and its age - which then dictates the size of the homeowner's property tax bill.
But a spokesman for current Assessor Fritz Kaegi said the office's records do not show any sign that notification of the 2007 new construction on Ricketts' property was ever received.
Then in 2013, the Tribune reported that Ricketts' attorney filed a property tax appeal seeking a reduction based on the age and size of the house - and included in the paperwork a photo of the 100-year-old home that had been torn down years before.
The Cook County assessor's office said it would examine Ricketts' home and the county Board of Review, which considered the 2013 appeal, said it too had launched an investigation.
"Todd Ricketts should repay the property tax relief it now appears he was not entitled to. I am most concerned and frankly outraged by the apparent intentional misrepresentation," Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi said in a statement. "By submitting a signed affidavit with outdated photos, it appears he sought to defraud the Board of Review. By not paying his fair share, Mr. Ricketts shifted his property taxes to other home owners."
"When Mr. Ricketts purchased property in Wilmette more than 10 years ago, he filed all necessary paperwork to build a new home," Ricketts' spokesman Brian Baker said in a statement. "Later, he retained a real estate attorney to assist with issues regarding his real estate taxes and assumed everyone involved had the correct information. If a mistake was made, he will work in good faith to fix it."
This year, Ricketts' property was valued at $993,500, for a tax bill of about $22,800, according to the Tribune, which reported that for comparison, his next door neighbor's slightly smaller home, 70 years older than Ricketts', was assessed at nearly $1.35 million with a tax bill of a about $31,200.
The alleged oversight in reinspecting the Ricketts' home - potentially resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in underpayment - fell under three separate assessors, according to the Tribune: James Houlihan in 2007 when the construction began, Joe Berrios during reassessments in 2013 and 2016, and this year under Kaegi.
"Our office was made aware of the inaccurate data for the Laurel Avenue properties only after they were re-assessed in 2019," a statement from a spokesperson for the Cook County Assessor's Office read. "The inaccurate data existed because we were not informed of work and occupancy permits on this property and because we are significantly understaffed and unable to do regular in-person field checks of all properties in Cook County. Once we were made aware of the erroneous data, we immediately scheduled a field check of this property and should have updated information on this property from the field check within the week. In the near future, our office will be hiring additional managers in our valuations area and increasing its use of technological tools which will enhance the quality of our data and help prevent this type of error from occurring."
The Tribune cited understaffing as one possible cause, pointing to a recent audit by the International Association of Assessing Officers, which found that with current staffing levels at the Cook County assessor's office, it would take 31 years to reinspect all of the county's 1.8 million parcels of land, though the association recommends reinspection of all parcels every four to six years.
This is not the first time the Cook County assessor's office has drawn scrutiny over inspections.
A 2017 Tribune/ProPublica Illinois investigation alleged that Berrios failed to assess thousands of properties, sometimes simply carrying over the number from one year to the next and creating “deep inequities” that punished small businesses while “cutting a break” to owners of high-value properties – ultimately forcing homeowners to pay more in property taxes.
That report was the publication’s second on Berrios’ practices, after a June 2017 investigation brought to light widespread inequities in the county's residential property tax system. Kaegi defeated Berrios - who at the time was the chair of the county's Democratic party - in the Democratic primary in March of the following year.