A defendant in a class action suit involving tax sales conducted under former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon claims potential jurors are "prejudiced" due to “negative, one-sided media attention generated about tax buyers and defendants as it relates to the indictment of defendant Bathon.”

John Vassen, a tax buyer who was named as a defendant in a proposed class action lawsuit, responded to the complaint April 15 on behalf of himself and V.I. Inc. Retirement Plan and V.I., Inc.

The lawsuit was filed in March by St. Jacob attorney John Barberis and Collinsville lawyer Steve Giacoletto on behalf of property owners who allege they suffered financial losses in relation to delinquent tax sale auctions administered by Madison County officials from 2005-2009.

Bathon, who served as treasurer from 1998 until his 2009 resignation, pled guilty in February to violating the Sherman Antitrust Act in relation to those tax sales.

A second amended class action complaint filed on April 5 lists Madison County, Bathon, Vassen, V.I. Inc. Retirement Plan, V.I. Inc., Dennis Ballinger, Empire Tax Corporation, Vista Securities, Robert Luken, Luken Investment Company, John Scott, Scott McClean, Land of Lincoln Securities LLC, Prairie State Securities, Inc., Barrett Rochman and SI Securities as defendants.

Vassen seeks to dismiss claims against him individually, since all tax sale certificates, which are the subject of the lawsuit were paid for by V.I., Inc.

He also says that statute of limitations concerns bar plaintiffs' recovery.

St. Louis attorney Paul T. Slocomb represents Vassen, V.I., Inc. Retirement Plan and V.I., Inc.

Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs, who was initially assigned to the case, recused himself on April 12 and sent the case back for reassignment.

Before doing so, Stobbs set Vassen’s motion to dismiss for hearing May 6.

He also had granted defendant SI Securities' motion for extension of time to respond to the lawsuit.

Defendants Ballinger, Empire Tax Corporation and Vista Securities on April 16 requested an extension of time to respond to the lawsuit.

Defendant Luken filed a “motion to stay pending completion of federal investigation" on April 9.

Luken is represented by Alton attorney John Dale Stobbs, who  wrote in Luken’s motion to stay that “it is in the interests of justice to stay these civil proceedings until completion of the federal investigation.”

Stobbs wrote that Luken may be the subject of said investigation, because he may have purchased tax liens in some of those years, the motion states.

Bathon, who faces between 33 and 41 months in prison, was scheduled to be sentenced in May, however, a federal judge continued sentencing while he cooperates with authorities.

His attorney, Clyde Kuehn of Belleville, sought the continuance, saying that his client is "cooperating with the government in its efforts to bring future charges against” others who may have been involved in rigging the county’s delinquent property tax sales.

Other defendants respond to proposed class action

Defendant Scott on April 8 denied participating in any “illegal agreement or conspiracy alleged in the second amended class action complaint."

He stated in his motion to dismiss that the plaintiffs' claims are the result of the plaintiffs' own negligence.

Defendant Prairie State Securities filed a motion to dismiss also on April 8, stating the plaintiffs' claim that auctions were illegally rigged and “inherently self-concealing” does not meet the standard of pleading required for fraudulent concealment.

Defendant Land of Lincoln Securities responded to the complaint April 8, stating the plaintiffs' claims are barred, because the complaint fails to state a claim against Land of Lincoln upon which relief may be granted.

Land of Lincoln also stated the plaintiff’s complaint is barred by the statute of limitations as the plaintiffs would have had knowledge of the alleged conspiracy and anti-trust actions prior to the statutory period. It stated that in the event plaintiffs are awarded compensatory damages, the amount of the judgment entered should be reduced in proportionately by the degrees of plaintiffs' respective comparative fault.

Defendant McLean also on April 8 denied that he, Land of Lincoln Securities or Prairie State Securities participated in any illegal agreement or conspiracy as alleged. McLean also stated the plaintiff failed to properly plead their cause of action and is time-barred.

Andrew Kasnetz, Timothy Sansone, and Natalie Kussart of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard represent Barrett Rochman and SI Securities.

Madison County case number 13-L-276.

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