Chicago's wealthiest getting undeserving property tax breaks - FOX 32 News Chicago

Chicago's wealthiest getting illegal tax breaks on huge homes

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

This political season has been filled with talk about whether millionaires are paying their fair share of taxes, but FOX Chicago has discovered some of the Chicago area's most successful residents have been getting another kind of break. They're getting property tax exemptions on huge homes and mansions they don't deserve.

A retired CEO of one of the state's biggest companies, a former top boss at Trib Tower, and the co-author of one of Chicago's longest-running stage hits-- all big-time success stories, and all apparently recipients of illegal property tax breaks.

"For people that constantly see their property taxes go up while their property values go down, it drives them crazy when they know there are people out there that are getting a tax break that they're not entitled to," said State Rep. Michael Zalewski, who has co-authored a bill with Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios that would give county assessors in Illinois the power to go after people getting multiple homeowners exemptions.

Under the law, you can only get one exemption, and it can only be on your primary residence. But if you break the law, there's little the assessor can do other than ask you to pay back the money you saved by getting the undeserved exemption.

"We can't rely on everybody to do the right thing. we need a tough administrative way to go after these scofflaws and make sure every taxpayer pays their fair share," Zalewski said.

Harold B. Smith, Jr. is the retired CEO of llinois Tool Works. His family's fortune is reportedly in the billions of dollars. Smith spends most of his time at a Palm Beach, FL mansion just down the street from Donald Trump's place. Florida property records show he's getting a homeowner's exemption on the mansion, but he's also getting an exemption on a home in Evanston, just a block from Lake Michigan. Hours after we called Smith's spokesperson, Smith's lawyer walked into the Cook County Assessor's office and wrote a check for $11,990 dollars to pay back the illegal exemptions. He also faces a tax investigation on the property in Florida.

Nuns are big business in Chicago theatre. "Late Night Chatechism" has been running for nearly 20 years and has been franchised all over the world. Vicki Quade co-created the theatrical hit, and also owns eight condo units on the north side that until last year were all getting homeowner's exemptions. She paid back $41,622.

David Williams was the longtime CEO of Tribune Media Services. He lives in Hinsdale, which is also where he votes. But for years he has been getting a landmark exemption on this historic Astor Street condo in the Gold Coast. Problem is, to get a landmark exemption, which essentially freezes your property taxes, it has to be your fulltime residence. The assessor's office says with three-thousand properties in Cook County getting the landmark exemption, it could be a bigger issue.

"We are in November going to audit every single one of those to verify that those residences are indeed owner-occupied," said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.

Quinn estimates Williams has saved about $77,000 in property taxes by using the landmark exemption over the past decade. He may have to pay that money back.

Williams and Quade did not respond to calls for this story. A spokesperson for Illinois Tool Works said Smith's second exemption on his property in Evanston was "inadvertant" and he paid back the money immediately after he was notified of the problem.

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