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Cook Board of Review increases questioned assessments
By Robert McCoppin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/31/2009 12:00 AM

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The Cook County Board of Review is reversing itself and canceling most of the substantial, controversial cuts in property tax assessments for four sites in Schaumburg.

The properties are subjects of the board's own internal investigation as well as a Cook County State's Attorney's probe.

Each site has ties to owners who gave campaign contributions either to Democratic State Rep. Paul Froehlich, or to Victor Santana, a former worker for board Commissioner Joe Berrios who was said to have free access inside board offices and who has since been barred from the premises.

The board sent notices dated Thursday notifying the owners that their assessments were going back up.

The assessment for Comfort Suites Schaumburg, at 1100 E. Higgins Road, owned by Bimal Doshi, which the board had lowered from approximately $1.3 million for 2007 to $839,000 for last year, was increased to nearly $1.1 million.

The assessment for 1230 N. Roselle Road, owned by Mike Gray, which the board had reduced by $500,000 to $351,000, was boosted to $1.3 million.

The property at 50 E. Remington Road, Schaumburg, owned by Sharad Dani, which had been lowered to $950,000, was reinstated to $1.16 million.

And the valuation for 810 Morse Ave., owned by Louis Capra, went from $210,000 to $260,000.

The increases were prompted by an internal board investigation of allegations that Froehlich and Santana used political influence to get reductions, though the specific basis for the increases were not explained in the letters.

Questions over Froehlich's involvement arose when a former employee, whom he fired, said Froehlich traded help on appeals for campaign contributions. Froehlich has denied that.

Deputy Commissioner Scott Guetzow explained the reasons for each change, ranging from Gray's statement that his signature was forged on some documents, to Capra's failure to contest the evidence, to the other cases providing only partial justification for their reductions.

As for the initial reductions, Guetzow said, "We didn't determine anything unethical, but with additional evidence, it bears out they should be a little higher."

The board has held hearings into the cases, and found property owners who said their paperwork was signed by an attorney they didn't know was representing them.

That attorney, Tamara De Silva, who at one point handled the appeals for three of the four cases, and got referrals from Froehlich, Santana and Judge Bill Taylor, accused the board of raising the assessments for political reasons.

The original decreases were justified, she argued, because the real estate market bubble burst by last year, and market values dropped drastically. She said the board was trying to make itself look good because of prosecutors' investigation of 250 Board of Review files.

But the sudden reversal, she said, makes the board look political and arbitrary.

"The obvious message is," she said, "there's no rationale for our decisions - we're acting politically. That shouldn't be comforting to any real estate taxpayer in Cook County."

She also said she planned to file suit on behalf of Santana charging the board was violating his rights by banning him from the office.

Commissioners Larry Rogers Jr. and Brendan Houlihan planned a news conference next week to answer questions about the assessments.