Christina Stueve Hodges Mar. 12, 2013, 11:31am

A Madison County woman has filed a class action lawsuit against former county treasurer Fred Bathon, the county and 26 other defendants.

Plaintiff Geralyn Lindow owned property at 617 Leonard St. in Alton that sold at a tax sale performed by Bathon in 2007 at a maximum penalty rate of 18 percent, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Madison County Circuit Court.

Lindow claims she was forced to redeem her property at an inflated amount and was damaged.

The plaintiff brings the action on behalf of herself and anyone who owned property sold at a Madison County Tax sale auction in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 and obtained a certificate of purchase in response to a penalty rate bid of 12 percent or higher.

“The plaintiff and each member of the class they represent were tricked, coerced, and/or forced to pay substantially higher amounts to redeem their properties than they would have had to pay absent such conspiracy,” the suit stated.

Plaintiff and the class members owned property in Madison County, sold at one or more Madison County real estate tax auctions from 2005-2008 and redeemed that property by paying a “penalty rate” in excess of what would have been required in the absence of the conspiracy and agreements, the lawsuit stated.

Bathon, who was elected Madison County treasurer in November, 1998, served until December, 2009.

During Bathon’s tenure, the tax sales were held in November, following the close of the prior tax year. The tax sale for tax year 2004 was held in November, 2005, according to the lawsuit.

Prior to Bathon’s election, the Madison County tax sale allowed potential tax purchasers to make lower bids on the amount of penalty that would be assessed.

Bathon, in concert with the tax purchaser defendants and Foley, conducted a system, eliminating competition and was designed to inflate prices for home owners to redeem their homes and ensure properties would be sold to the tax purchaser defendants at the statutory maximum penalty rate of 18 percent, the complaint states.

Bathon and tax purchaser defendants’ purpose was of controlling or maintaining the penalty rate, which would be charged to property owners seeking to redeem their properties after such tax sales in violation of the Illinois Antitrust Act, court documents say.

Bathon received campaign contributions from numerous tax purchasers. The tax purchaser defendants, directly or indirectly, made campaign contributions to Bathon.

Plaintiffs expect discovery in the case may reveal other individuals or companies participated in “the conspiracy,” who may be added as defendants.

The remaining defendants named in the lawsuit are Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, Jim Foley, Barrett Rochman, Kenneth Rochman, Blye Sky Vineyards, CDBR, Sabre Group, S.I. Securities, Dennis Ballinger, Jr., Empire Tax Corp., Vista Securities, John Vassen, Joseph Vassen, VI, Inc., Scott McClean, Land of Lincoln Securities, Prairie State Securities, Robert Luken, Scott Sieron, Raven Securities, Illinois Mobile Homes, Illinois Realty Group Holdings, Illinois Realty Group, John Scott, Edward Beasley, and RLI Insurance Co.

Another defendant would be substituted for Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler if the holder of the Madison County Treasurer’s office should change during the “course of this action,” the lawsuit stated.

On Feb. 5, Bathon was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois with violating federal law, based on his activities in conducting tax sales within Madison County. He pled guilty to the charge the same day. His sentencing is set May 17.

Lindow seeks an excess of $50,000 and an order, certifying the action as a class action and appointing the plaintiff as a representative of the class.

Nelson L. Mitten, Charles S. Kramer and Paul A. Grote of Riezman Berger in St. Louis represent the plaintiff.

The case is assigned to Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla.

Madison County case number 13-L-390.

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