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Legislation To Go After Property Tax Cheats Stalls In Springfield

CHICAGO (CBS) -- More than $100 million in property taxes a year – that's how much the experts estimate the state is losing because county assessors can't go after property owners claiming exemptions they aren't entitled to.

And as CBS 2's Pam Zekman reports, the legislature's failure to pass reform legislation this week means every property owner will continue to pay for it.

As the 2 Investigators disclosed last year, Dominic Santoro saved more than $87,000 on his property taxes with homeowner exemptions at apartment buildings in Rosemont he does not live in.

"I am totally handcuffed. I cannot go after this guy. All I can do is take him off the rolls for the future," Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios says.

That's why Berrios is mad that this week the legislature failed to pass a bill that would stop abuses like this.

You are only entitled to one homeowner exemption at your primary residence. But the owner of one apartment building has eight of them.

Buildings in Berwyn and Cicero owned by a Chicago Realtor who Berrios says has saved more than $57,000 in property taxes over a seven-year period that he was not entitled to.

Berrios says experts conservatively estimate cases like these result in $62 million a year in lost tax revenue in Cook County alone.

"I think every taxpayer should be ticked off that these people are cheating the system and they're footing the bill for it. That's wrong. That's totally wrong," Berrios says.

The bill legislators stalled this week would have authorized assessors to seek repayment going back a maximum of six years, charge 9 percent interest and up to a 40 percent penalty, depending on how many fraudulent exemptions they had.

The Illinois Association of Realtors lobbied against the bill because a spokesman said it did not adequately protect property owners who do not realize they're getting an exemption.

But the spokesman said it is not opposed in principal to a bill that cracks down on property tax cheaters.

Berrios says the bill distinguishes between the clueless and intentional cheaters, and he'll work to get it passed during the legislatures fall veto session.

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