Real estate investor Robert Luken of Alton, facing a civil suit over his role in a bid rigging conspiracy of former Madison County treasurer Fred Bathon, accuses five current courthouse leaders of corruption.
Luken filed a counter claim on April 21, against county board chairman Alan Dunstan, former county clerk Mark Von Nida, former state’s attorney William Mudge, former assistant state’s attorney Thomas Gibbons, and assistant state’s attorney John McGuire.
Three of the five have advanced to higher positions in the County since the bid rigging conspiracy took place.
Von Nida now serves as circuit clerk, Mudge as circuit judge and Gibbons as state’s attorney.
Bathon is serving a federal prison sentence of two and a half years, for conducting sales of delinquent taxes for the benefit of bidders who contributed to his campaign.
Luken’s lawyer, John Stobbs of Alton, wrote, “It was common knowledge among all courthouse personnel that Bathon’s tax sales were fixed.”
“Luken protested to many employees and officials about the fixed sales, including Mark Von Nida and his personnel.
“Mark Von Nida, who attended and observed the sales, became concerned about his liability or responsibility for the fixed sales.”
Stobbs wrote that Von Nida consulted McGuire, who did nothing to stop the illegal sales.
“Instead, he issued a written opinion to Von Nida that the county clerk had no power to control, or responsibility for, the tax sales procedure because that was a matter solely under the control of the county treasurer.”
According to Luken’s counter claim, he walked out of the tax sale in 2007, declaring it illegal.
Stobbs wrote that after Luken walked out, he stopped for a cup of coffee and encountered McGuire, who asked, “How are the sales going?”
Luken replied, “John, you know how they are going,” the complaint states.
It also states that in 2008, Luken’s attorney sent a letter telling Bathon his procedure was contrary to statute, with a copy to the state’s attorney.
“No action was taken with regard to this advice and protest,” Stobbs wrote.
He wrote that in 2010, the state’s attorney prevented a county board committee from holding hearings on Bathon’s conduct.
Another tax buyer named in civil action filed on behalf of distressed property owners, John Scott of Champaign, filed his answer on April 17.
Scott’s lawyer, Mark McLean of Town and Country, Mo., attached to his answer correspondence showing that Scott complained two years before Luken did.
Scott first contacted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on March 4, 2005.
“The sales I have attended, about 30 different counties over 16 years, are fair and conducted per law except Madison County,” Scott wrote to Madigan.
“I decided that for the November 2004 tax sale I would bid lower than the contributing tax buyers, even if I had to bid zero percent.
“As a result of bidding zero percent on hundreds of taxes, I bought more than I ever have before.
“The contributing tax buyers would not bid zero percent because they knew they would get taxes at one percent as a result of their contributions to Fred Bathon.”
At that particular sale, Bathon stopped the proceedings and took staff member Patty Ward out of the room, according to Scott.
“I believe this was to tell her not to accept my bids,” he wrote.
Scott wrote that he bid zero percent on more than 50 taxes, and Ward gave them to one percent bidders who had contributed to Bathon.
He wrote that contributors got the best seats and he was given a seat as far from Ward as he could be.
“This makes it easier for her to ignore me,” Scott wrote.
He wrote that if not for tax buyers who didn’t contribute to Bathon, delinquent taxes would probably be split among contributors at the legal maximum of 18 percent.
At Madigan’s office, someone filled out a tracking sheet and wrote by hand, “Refer for AGO investigation or refer to Madison County SAO.”
Someone then crossed out the first half of the note, leaving only the half recommending referral to the state’s attorney.
Madigan’s criminal chief, Richard Schwind, sent Scott’s letter to Mudge.
Schwind wrote, “No further communication from our office regarding this matter will be forthcoming.”
Scott sent Mudge a letter on May 31, 2005, asking for the status of his complaint writing that he thought he would have heard from him by then.
Mudge gave the letter to McGuire on June 13, 2005, and wrote, “Please review and let me know how you suggest we respond.”
Scott met with McGuire on July 19, 2005, and followed up with a letter to Mudge asking him to send an assistant to the next tax sale.
On Nov. 3, 2005, McGuire wrote to Scott that, “The State’s Attorney is confident that the upcoming tax sale will be conducted in full compliance with Illinois law.”
McGuire told Scott that if he wasn’t satisfied with his seat, he could ask for another.
Scott’s prediction of 18 percent bids came true after Bathon won the election in 2006.
When the scandal broke, U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton obtained guilty pleas from Bathon and tax buyers John Vassen, Scott McLean and Barrett Rochman.
Wigginton recommended 10 to 16 months for Vassen and McLean, but Chief District Judge David Herndon ordered two years for Vassen and 18 months for McLean.
Herndon sentenced Rochman to 16 months.
Wigginton decided at the outset not to seek restitution from the bid riggers, writing that calculation of individual damages was impracticable.
Lawyers representing victims disagreed, and they filed three Madison County class actions to calculate and award damages.
Madison County Chief Judge Dave Hylla assigned the cases to Clinton County Circuit Judge Dennis Middendorff, who consolidated them earlier this month.