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Caught on tape

Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013

* Yikes

In September 2008, Cook County Board of Review analyst Thomas Hawkins was talking about an alleged scheme to lower property tax assessments for a corrupt Chicago police officer when he mentioned that the “boss” had grand plans for how to make even more in bribes in the future.

“This is the move…Joe’s gonna run for assessor…he’s gonna win,” Hawkins allegedly told the officer, Ali Haleem, who was secretly recording the conversation for the FBI. “And then he’s gonna appoint his top deputy for commissioner. So now Joe’s gonna get paid double. He’s gonna get paid for raising taxes and lowering (them).”

The “boss,” according to the Tribune, was Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios, who was then on the Board of Review and eventually won his race for county assessor.


Berrios hasn’t been charged with any crime, and he wasn’t in court Tuesday as hours of wiretapped conversations defendants Tommy Hawkins and John Racasi had about their alleged bribe scheme were played for a federal jury.

But he was center stage nonetheless as both defendants repeatedly implicated him in the secretly taped conversations with an undercover FBI informant.

In one, recorded Sept. 17, 2008, Hawkins, 49, boasts that he was “with Berrios… having lettuce salads” — code, the feds say, that the defendants used for accepting cash bribes.

In another, recorded Sept. 11, 2008, Hawkins was recorded explaining that he planned to bypass “red tape” on an allegedly corrupt property tax appeal by going “straight to Berrios and get a signature.”

“You know, with the lettuce, say here you go, man — sign this. Put this through right away,” Hawkins was taped saying.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - phocion - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 10:45 am:

    Joe “Lettuce” Berrios. I like it. Kind of has a ring to it.

  2. - bdrlgion - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 10:47 am:

    Not quite the same ring as the “Hog with the Big Nuts”, but Joe “Lettuce” Berrios is just as crooked.

  3. - Ron Burgundy - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 10:48 am:

    Innocent until proven guilty and all, and he hasn’t even been charged with anything (yet), but I think any long term observers of Cook County/Chicago politics would find that Mr. Berrios being implicated in funny business is among the least surprising revelations out there.

  4. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 10:50 am:

    Hours of taped conversations? My, what a chatterbox.

    Hasn’t this guy watched any movies? There are many more subtle ways of soliciting a bribe than yammering on like you’re at a teenage girls slumber party.

  5. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 10:53 am:

    Always order the soup.

  6. - Ravenswood Right Winger - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 10:56 am:

    any chance Will Guzzardi knocks off Toni Berrios this gime in the Dem Primary? Onyl lost by 125 votes last time.

  7. - LincolnLounger - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 10:57 am:

    I hope Mr. Berrios feeds at the generous trough served up by Cook County taxpayers for a long time.

    They should get exactly the government to which they are entitled.

  8. - plutocrat03 - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:02 am:

    My first contact with the corrupt political machine was nearly 40 years ago when the charity I was working for was being shaken down for a bribe. The song never changes. First you get near a river of money and you and your cronies tap into it.

    The taxpayers are the suckers, while the poor who truly need help are kept hanging.

  9. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:02 am:

    Already didn’t like the guy, because of his family employment service on the taxpayers’ dime.

    And he wouldn’t let Toni Preckwinkle’s auditor/inspector review or criticize his office.

    We’ll see where this goes. There’s always the chance the guy on tape was guessing or exaggerating to show his own “connection”.

  10. - Angry Republican - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:05 am:

    Nothing to see here, move along. The property tax system in C(r)ook County is ripe for abuse, and there are many people feeding at that trough.

  11. - Snucka - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:12 am:

    And I assume he will be unopposed in next year’s election?

  12. - Rudykzooti - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:15 am:

    This should surprise no one, especially any of the fools who voted for him…please.

  13. - DuPage - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:19 am:

    Shocked! Gambling in this establishment. Shocked!
    Corruption at the county! Oh, COOK County? Never mind.

  14. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:25 am:

    The far more interest question on this is where it will lead if he’s been implicated.

  15. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:26 am:

    Wow, a lot of people here taking this moron’s words as proof that Berrios is guilty of a crime. Whether you like him or not, you have to say that there has to be more evidence than this to prove a crime… and if there is the feds will know about it and will take appropriate action. Until then, this is simply more egg on Berrios’s face. I personally don’t think that he would be that stupid.

  16. - Taxestoohigh - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:40 am:

    I agree with Anon @ 11:26 am. I have some inside knowledge on the Cook County Board of Review and the relationship between Commissioner Rogers and Berrios was not that great. I find it hard to believe that a staff member from Rogers staff (Hawkins) had the ability to walk a file straight to Commissioner Berrios for a signature. Doesn’t really add up imho.

  17. - Huh? - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 11:42 am:

    “…I personally don’t think that he would be that stupid.”

    How often has this comment been made about other politicians who were eventually caught with a hand in the till?

  18. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 12:04 pm:

    Anyone can say anything. Let’s wait and see what was actually said before we smear Berrios or anyone else for that matter.

  19. - Boutte - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 12:16 pm:

    anyone who takes a dope addicts word is just plain stupid. Hawkins even testified that he’s a heroin addict.

  20. - Precinct Captain - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 12:19 pm:

    ==They should get exactly the government to which they are entitled.==

    One that prosecutes corruption?

  21. - Amalia - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 12:27 pm:

    anyone who has ever checked their property description or done an appeal knows that the system is filled with huge inequities. rumors on how that happens have persisted for years. I suspect that a big number of local and federal prosecutors could be kept busy unearthing the web of action in the Assessor’s Office and building departments that fail to attach property changes to a record. some people get over or accurately assessed. others are way under assessed. something is very wrong with the system.

  22. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 12:31 pm:

    Anyone can say anything, yes.

    But would you jeopardize your job and freedom for a show of clout.

  23. - reformer - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 12:40 pm:

    The two guys on trial worked for Rogers, not Berrios. You’d think their actual boss would have some responsibility about what his employees were doing. If “lettuce” was in fact being shared at the BoR by more than the two defendants, why would they share it with someone they didn’t work for?

  24. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 1:07 pm:

    I too have very intimate knowledge of the BOR, and know Berrios and the defendants. I don’t find this believable at all for a number of reasons, including:

    1. The defendants worked for a different Commmissioner — one that did not have great relations with Berrios — it seems very unlikely that they would go to Berrios.

    2. The Commissioners themselves rarely sign-off on files… files are generally signed-off by analysts that work for the Commissioners. Why would the defendants go straight to a Commissioner instead of a lower-level staffer to sign-off on the file?

    3. There are tens and tens of thousands of appeals (mostly commercial) worth a hell of a lot more money than any ol’ ordinary house. If Berrios was inclined to engage in this type of quid-pro-quo, why would he do it on a small house to take a cut of $1,500 when there would be so much more money to be made on a larger commercial property?

    In my humble opinion, I think the defendants were blowing smoke in order to entice the guy to pay the bribe.

  25. - Clerk's Office Employee - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 1:17 pm:

    Wanna hear some corruption in Cook County that the news is participating in…..why is Clerk Dorothy Brown and some our staff from the Italian American Employee Committee having an Italian-American Heritage award ceremony tomorrow at 12:30 p.m…..during regular business hours….not at the Daley Center but at a restaurant called Gene and Georgretti’s at 400 N. Franklin Street.

    Guess whos on the list to receive an award….Ryan Chiaverini, WGN News

    Guess who the emcee is……..Vince Gerasole, CBS 2 News

    Guess who will introduce the awardees……Mark Giangrec, ABC 7 News

    Why is the news media aiding in Clerk Brown’s corruption?

  26. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 1:18 pm:


    Perhaps because Berrios has more pull seeing as he is currently the Assessor as well as having been a BoR Commissioner.

  27. - Nonplussed - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 1:23 pm:

    “at a restaurant called Gene and Georgetti’s”???? In Chicago, that is like saying a restaurant called “McDonalds”.

    BTW, 12:30 could be the lunch hour (don’t make me defend Dorothy Brown again. I feel dirty)

  28. - Amalia - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 1:38 pm:

    ooh, and between this story and the Millenium Park fiasco, happy Zach Fardon day indeed! serving these items up to you for your newbie Northern Dist U.S.Attorney action sir!

  29. - reformer - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 1:41 pm:

    == Perhaps because Berrios has more pull seeing as he is currently the Assessor as well as having been a BoR Commissioner. ==

    At the time in question, Berrios was one of three commissioners. (He subsequently left the BoR and became assessor.) He didn’t have the best of relations with the other two commissioners. Consequently, the story the defendants were telling to undercover cop doesn’t add up.

  30. - Judgment Day (Road Trip) - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 2:05 pm:

    This is all about the Fed’s sending a message.

    “We’re paying attention, and you are firmly on our radar screen. Have a nice day. Oh, and enjoy the lettuce salad.”

  31. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 2:08 pm:

    It’s good to see Berrios supporters swarming this board. I have no idea whether this is true or not. What I do know is that statements like these launch Federal investigations. Given his relationships and roles, that should make a lot of people very nervous today.

  32. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 2:11 pm:


    The defendants obviously had inside information that Berrios was going to be elected Assessor, as they claimed, and as occurred.

  33. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 2:42 pm:

    === It’s good to see Berrios supporters swarming this board. ===

    My input was based on my personal experience and knowledge… not as a knee-jerk Berrios supporter.

  34. - Rhino Slider - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 2:45 pm:

    When Joe Berrios is in hot water, he thinks its a bath. So much is known about him but it doesn’t affect his winning. So be it if the Cook County voters elect him. He is a known entity.

  35. - reformer - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 3:13 pm:

    == The defendants obviously had inside information that Berrios was going to be elected Assessor, as they claimed, and as occurred.==

    Once Houlihan announced his retirement, it was widely known that Berrios would run for the office. To predict that the chairman of the County party would win in the county of Cook didn’t take any special insider knowledge.

  36. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 3:56 pm:

    @Just Observing

    This is the only bribe that has been recorded by an undercover police officer. Is it not possible that there have been other, possibly more lucrative bribes?

    It is certainly possible.

  37. - Clerk's Office Employee - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 4:31 pm:

    @ Nonplussed….Good try….but it takes about 15 minutes to get from the Daley Center to 400 N. Franklin. What that leaves 45 minutes to eat and have the awards ceremony? Good try though!!!!

  38. - bobby brown - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 4:43 pm:

    joe is partners with mjm in a high powered commercial real estate law firm. connect the dots here folk. joe isnt going anywhere with his mjm ties. rich would agree…right rich?

  39. - anon - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 5:10 pm:

    Difficult for Joe to be a partner @ MJM ’s firm since Joe is not a licensed attorney. C’mon people, yes the Assessor’s office and BOR offer the opportunity for the office holders to be bribed but in most cases it is in the form of donations that the tax attorneys contribute to the Assessor and also the BOR Commissioners.

  40. - reformer - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 6:26 pm:

    ==Is it not possible that there have been other, possibly more lucrative bribes? ==

    Anything is possible. You certainly don’t convict an individual on that basis. I’m not sure why what’s possible would limit the focus to just one commissioner.

  41. - BobInPeoria - Wednesday, Oct 23, 13 @ 8:40 pm:

    “So now Joe’s gonna get paid double. He’s gonna get paid for raising taxes and lowering (them).”

    Good summary of how Cook County pols/insiders operate in the property tax system there.

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