County clerk, two others receive grand jury subpoenas
At least two Madison County employees and one elected official received grand jury subpoenas today from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, county leaders said.
"I did get a subpoena to go to the grand jury on the 19th," said County Clerk Mark Von Nida. "I got a chance to visit with the agents for a little bit ... I am really happy to go and share with them everything I know."
Aside from Von Nida, Treasurer Kurt Prenzler said two of his employees were served with subpoenas today. Prenzler said FBI agents stopped by the treasurer's office at about 8:35 a.m. and delivered the pair of subpoenas shortly after.
He also said agents inquired into the whereabouts of a former employee of the treasurer's office who now works in the circuit clerk's office.
Judy Nelson, the acting circuit clerk, confirmed that FBI agents "talked to an employee here who used to work for the treasurer's office," but said no subpoenas were served in her office today.
Both Prenzler and Von Nida said they did not know the FBI was coming until the agents showed up at their offices this morning. FBI spokesman Brad Ware said he could not "confirm or deny the existence of any investigation."
Although the agents did not mention the reason behind the subpoenas, Von Nida said people could probably draw a conclusion based on who the FBI visited today. Prenzler said he assumes the subpoenas deal with past tax sales and bond purchases.
Madison County made headlines two years ago for the way its former treasurer, Fred Bathon, handled delinquent tax bill auctions. An investigation by the Belleville News-Democrat in 2010 revealed that Bathon accepted campaign contributions from a handful of tax buyers, the people who purchase delinquent property tax debt and then charge property owners a penalty interest rate in hopes of making some money.
The paper's investigation showed that in 2006 and 2007, Bathon awarded tax buyers no-bid interest penalties of 18 percent, which is the highest rate allowed under Illinois law.
The allegations against Bathon spurred several lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Haine, R-Alton, and Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, to push legislation to reform the auction process for delinquent property tax debts. The measure, which was signed into law last summer, requires county treasurers to use an automated bidding system for the auctions and increases the notification period for these auctions.
Both of the employees in the treasurer's office who received subpoenas today worked under Bathon's administration. The employee in the circuit clerk's office, who was approached by FBI agents, but not served with a subpoena today, previously served as Bathon's personal secretary. Among his other duties, Von Nida, the county clerk of about 15 years, works with the county treasurer to administer and deliver various tax services.
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