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A look at Madigan’s law firm

Monday, Jun 16, 2014

* The Sun-Times takes a look at House Speaker Michael Madigan’s law firm’s property tax work for an offshoot of Mesirow Financial Services, which put up a skyscraper, then sold it

After appealing to Houlihan and the Cook County Board of Review, Madigan got the building’s market value pegged at $31.3 million. That saved Stein’s company $1.7 million in property taxes for 2010.

On Dec. 15, 2010, Stein’s company sold the building to Tishman Speyer for $385.4 million — a deal that Madigan’s firm says wiped out the equity that Mesirow and Jenner had in the skyscraper.

For each of the past four years, Madigan has filed challenges of the building’s estimated market value with Berrios, who succeeded Houlihan as county assessor in 2010.

Every year, Berrios has said the building is worth at least $330 million. And every year Madigan’s firm has gotten Berrios to slash that estimate, resulting in tax breaks that have averaged $5 million a year, county records show. Tishman Speyer passes along the tax bills to its tenants, so any cut benefits them.

The skyscraper “had essentially no rental income in 2009 and reduced rental income in subsequent years,” says Madigan’s partner, attorney Bud Getzendanner, who successfully argued for the cuts. […]

Getzendanner won’t say how much the firm has been paid for winning the cuts in property assessment that lowered the building’s taxes. Madigan told the Chicago Tribune four years ago that his firm charges clients an annual fee rather than take a percentage of the tax cuts.

Earlier this year, Getzendanner argued the building was worth no more than $260 million, though its net income hit $36.7 million last year, the highest since tenants first moved in. He noted that 10 percent of the building remained vacant.

Once again, Madigan’s firm got Berrios to cut the building’s estimated value, this time by 20 percent, then persuaded the Board of Review to lower it by another 2 percent.

At first blush, it looks like a fetcher game. The Assessor repeatedly over-estimates and then MJM swoops in to save the day.

But that probably can’t be because Madigan doesn’t take a cut of the tax reduction. He charges by the year.

* There have been tons of stories done on Madigan’s property tax business. I’m told the feds went through his books several years ago. They came up empty. Former GOP Rep. Maureen Murphy, an avowed Madigan enemy in the House, ran for the Board of Review back in the day with the specific goal of going after Madigan. Nothing ever materialized.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


6 Comments
  1. - wordslinger - Monday, Jun 16, 14 @ 12:09 pm:

    The whole political-property tax system stinks. You have to lawyer up to have a real chance at getting a reduction.

    And the whole idea of raising revenue through the assessed valuation of property is subjective on its face, as are appeals.

    The more we can shift from property to income for revenues, the better.


  2. - Pete - Monday, Jun 16, 14 @ 12:14 pm:

    Rich,
    You left out the family connection, and the lower than market rate rent. Both of those points speak to how if you’re an insider life is a little sweeter for you.


  3. - MrJM (@MisterJayEm) - Monday, Jun 16, 14 @ 12:25 pm:

    There have been tons of stories done on Madigan’s property tax business. I’m told the feds went through his books several years ago. They came up empty.

    “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandal is what’s legal.” — Michael Kinsley, Crossfire, CNN, Nov. 15, 1990.

    – MrJM


  4. - Mokenavince - Monday, Jun 16, 14 @ 12:52 pm:

    It’s legal because Madigan write’s the laws. He has the state prosecute them and his law firm defends them.


  5. - Steve - Monday, Jun 16, 14 @ 1:02 pm:

    This is a great story. There’s a lot of wisdom to be learned in here for aspiring Illinois politicians. Mike Madigan is no Derrick Smith . If the Derrick Smith’s of the world would understand certain rules of the game, they’d understand the long run.


  6. - Fed up - Monday, Jun 16, 14 @ 2:12 pm:

    Berrios and Madigan are as thick as thieves. Both consider politics a family business. Madigan has never been bothered by Berrios questionable ethics or his I’m above the law attitude Wonder if Madigan is more successful at property tax reductions than other attorneys. It remains that certain connected few control a lot of influence.


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