Joe’s Time, Our Dime?

Is Berrios conducting political and personal business on government time?

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios portrays himself as a public servant who toils on behalf of taxpayers.

A review of public records, though, raises questions about whether Berrios—the Democratic nominee for the powerful post of Cook County assessor — is conducting political and personal business on government time, from his 6th floor office in the County Building.

The Better Government Association analyzed phone and visitor logs from Berrios’s office—as well as copies of his personal schedule—and found that, while on the clock for his $100,000-a-year public job, he had repeated contact with political figures, and his partner in a side lobbying business.

For his part, Berrios insisted that many of those visitors were just friends stopping by to say hello, and that “generally we leave the office if someone wants to talk politics.”

But the records—obtained by the BGA and Chicago magazine under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and other sources—show that since early 2009:

  • Sam Panayotovich, Berrios’s partner in the Chicago lobbying firm B-P Consultants, Inc., visited Berrios’s office more than 20 times and called—or was called by—Berrios’s office at least a dozen times.
  • 1st Ward Democratic committeeman Jesse Ruben Juarez visited Berrios at least 95 times. Juarez runs a political consulting firm, JRJ Consulting, Inc., that the Berrios campaign has paid tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Maggie Winters, who works for the Cook County Democratic Party as an executive assistant to Berrios, the party chairman, visited him more than 30 times, while there were 13 phone calls back and forth between Berrios’s office and party headquarters.
  • Dominic Longo, who helps run the shadowy Coalition for Better Government and was convicted in a long-ago vote fraud case, visited Berrios. Berrios’s schedule mentions a golf outing hosted by the coalition this summer.
  • Robert Kruse, who works for Madison Appraisal LLC, has visited “Mikie”—Berrios’s secretary—more than 130 times, while Berrios’s office has exchanged calls with Madison Appraisal more than 30 times. Kruse is a political advisor and key fundraiser to Berrios.

Kruse could not be reached.

Longo declined to comment.

Winters also didn’t want to talk with a reporter, although a Democratic Party spokeswoman said Winters regularly runs mail and messages to Berrios’s county office.

Juarez said some of his visits involved Latino outreach on property taxes. Panayotovich did not return phone calls.

One former political consultant who has worked closely with Berrios said he doesn’t buy the explanation that politics is avoided in the office.

“The only reason I was ever in his office was political,” the consultant said.

Andy Shaw, executive director of the BGA, said the body of evidence certainly suggests Berrios is mixing his interests — and raises real questions about whether taxpayers are his first priority.

“The rules are pretty clear — politics should be practiced on your own time, not when you’re pulling a government salary,” Shaw said.

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4 years ago
Posted by JigsUp

First-rate article! Joe Berrios and his cronies on the Board of Review are the most ham-handed, money-grubbing, corrupt political hacks to come down the pike since Bath House John Coughlin and Hinky Dink Kenna. Three million dollars in contributions - mostly from property tax lawyers, five committees to shuffle the money, property-tax outreaches published on his campaign website, and property tax lawyers lining up to pay to play ---- but, according to Joe, he's for the little guy - John and Jane Q. Homeowner----Bilgewater!!

Despite the protestations of Berrios' lawyer, the whole operation looks like a case study in RICO. Berrios and the other co-conspirators at the BoR have been milking property-tax lawyers, bilking homeowners, and lining their campaign war chests to make sure they stay on the gravy train. Every property-tax lawyer knows that tribute to Berrios, etal., must be paid if they are to stay in the business - the bigger the contribution, the bigger the assessment reduction! The incestous relationship between Berrios, Madigan and virtually the entire property-tax bar is racketeering at its most base level.

At long last, however, the federal lawsuit against Berrios and his cronies and toadies may bring down the corrupt house-of-cards. It may do to the corrupt property-tax assessment v campaign contribution scheme what Berrios' gastric band is designed to do to his caloric intake ----------- shut it down!!!

Finally, John Norris is dead wrong! If there is a law which limits his - and similarly situated, bottom-feeding property-tax attorneys - contributions to BoR commissioners based on what his income from interaction with the BoR, then it is the public's business how much he is raking in. If it is more than $10,000, he is limited in his tributes to Joe, Larry and Houlie. Norris and the rest of those suckling at the teat of the BoR need to file the disclosures and come clean.

The problem is the Berrios is just the Capo de Tutti Capi among the commissioners. Co-conspirator Larry Rogers Jr., is the guy representing a client suing the same county from which he (Rogers Jr.) extracts $ 100k in salary - no appearance of conflict there!! - for a position from which he has leveraged $500K in tribute from those appearing before him. Between Rogers Jr. and Berrios, corruption, conflict of interest and sleaze has been elevated to an artform.

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