Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Mar. 13, 2015, 3:42pm

A tax-buyer defendant in a Madison County bid-rigging lawsuit filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming he was a whistleblower to former treasurer Fred Bathon’s “improper behavior” a decade ago.

Bathon, who served as treasurer from 1998 until his resignation in 2009, pleaded guilty in 2013 to violating the Sherman Antitrust Act in relation to rigged tax sales. He was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Tax buyers John Vassen, Scott McLean and Barrett Rochman also pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme and are serving prison sentences.

In defendant John Scott’s Feb. 13 motion, he argues that in 2005, the same year that the alleged conspiracy began, he contacted the Illinois Attorney General’s office, saying he believed “improper behavior” was occurring at the tax sales – the same behavior relied upon by the plaintiffs in their civil case against the alleged conspirators.

Therefore, Scott, who is represented by the McCarty Leonard & Kaemmerer firm in Town and Country, Mo., argues that his whistleblowing absolves him of any liability related to conspiracy allegations.

“Scott’s attempted whistleblowing in this case for the very behavior that plaintiffs allege to have caused their damages shows he did not have the requisite intent to participate in the conspiracy or violate antitrust laws,” the motion states.

In support of his request for summary judgment, Scott explained that he sent a letter to former State’s Attorney William Mudge, who is now a Madison County circuit judge, in May 2005, informing him of his suspicions. Scott claims he sent a similar letter to the Illinois Attorney General in March of that year.

“The above misconduct is illegal and should not be tolerated by any public official,” he wrote in his March 2005 letter.

He said Mudge assigned Assistant State’s Attorney John McGuire to the case, who met with and interviewed him on July 19, 2005.

During his interview, Scott said he shared an exchange between him and the former treasurer when he visited Bathon to discuss complaints about the auction. Scott said Bathon immediately switched the subject to talk about how difficult it was to get campaign contributions. Then when Scott offered Bathon a check to sponsor a hole in a golf tournament, Bathon refused and told him, “Take this back. I can see you don’t want to be any part of this.”

Roughly one week after the November 2004 tax sale, Scott says he received a phone call. When he answered, a voice said, “You will never beat the Madison County machine,” before the caller hung up.

Following the investigation, Scott states that McGuire determined that no evidence was discovered indicating that Bathon’s policies and practices were influenced by campaign donations or that any participants took illegal actions

Scott states that McGuire also refused to attend the November 2005 tax auction, saying at the time that Bathon may use his own discretion. Bathon was permitted to arrange preferred seating assignments and to refuse trailing bids, Scott's motion states.

According to the three separate lawsuits, which have been consolidated to one case, Scott is accused of participating in the civil conspiracy as a tax purchaser, concealing the concerted acts and violating the Illinois Antitrust Act.

The consolidated lawsuits seek damages for property owners who claim they had to pay artificially high prices to redeem their overdue taxes during the period of time when Bathon was in office. Plaintiffs claim that up to 10,000 property owners may have been affected.

Clinton County Associate Judge William J. Becker is presiding over the consolidated case.

Plaintiff Scott Bueker is acting as the lead plaintiff. He is represented by Aaron G. Weishaar of Reinert Weishaar and Associates in St. Louis and others.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 13-L-276

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