Illinois governor hopeful JB Pritzker 'defrauded' taxpayers with 'improper' property tax breaks, watchdog says

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for governor in Illinois, improperly received more than $300,000 in property tax breaks in a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers, according to a new watchdog report.

Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard said Pritzker received huge tax breaks on a mansion he owns in Chicago as “part of a scheme for obtaining money by means of false representations.”

The county, Blanchard said, “ultimately fell victim to a scheme to defraud.”

The inspector general’s report included an email from a project manager who said M.K. Muenster Pritzker, his wife, requested workers remove all toilets from the house in order for it to be considered an “uninhabitable structure” in 2015. Then, after the house was to be reassessed, a toilet was to be put back in on the first floor, according to the email’s instructions.

Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt hotel chain, said the report was “leaked for political purposes in this last month of a campaign.” He said his family “sought a reassessment like other people do” and blamed the “flaws in the property tax system” in Cook County, the Chicago Tribune reported.

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University of Illinois political science professor Dr. Brian Gaines expects Pritzker to stick to his message and agree to pay back the money if he’s asked to do so, as Blanchard recommended in the report.

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But Pritzker’s response has been “quite weak rebuttals to the allegations that his taxes were lowered illegally – it was evasion, not mere avoidance, in the jargon of the field,” Gaines told Fox News.

“The ‘we were renovating and undecided about how to proceed’ story seems completely unbelievable and at odds with the charge of fraud,” he added. “I also don’t think he can merely claim that his underlings did this and he was too busy to even notice.”

Pritzker’s toilet troubles are not new for Illinois politics; the Chicago Sun-Times reported on the tax breaks he received during the mansion’s renovations last year. Gaines said he doesn’t suspect the new inspector general’s report to have much of an impact on Pritzker’s race against incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner – especially if voters are thinking “we already know that all rich people cheat on their taxes.”

But Pritzker has been criticized, including in recent days, for not being forthcoming about the details of his tax plan if he’s elected. Along with those critiques, this new report “undermines his credibility,” Adam Schuster, an Illinois Policy budget and tax research director, told Fox News.

“I don’t think you should trust someone to change our tax system to be more fair when he’s been exploiting an unfair tax system for a personal advantage,” Schuster said.

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In response to the inspector general’s report, Rauner campaign spokesman Will Allison said the report “proves what we knew all along – JB Pritzker is a fraud.”

“It’s clear from Pritzker’s repeated use of fraudulent tax dodging that he doesn’t have the character and integrity to be governor,” Allison said in a statement.

The house in question sits in what is Chicago’s Gold Coast district, an affluent neighborhood located on Lake Michigan. It’s next door to another mansion he also owns.

Pritzker began the $24 million renovation on the house in 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported. However, that work was stalled in 2010 due to a dispute with the general contractor. During that time, Pritzker said he was unsure if he wanted to keep the house or put it up for sale or rent.

The report said Pritzker received $132,747.18 in “tax refunds” from 2012 to 2014, and he received $198,684.85 in “tax savings” from 2015 to 2016.

Fox News has ranked the gubernatorial election as leaning Democrat.