BENTON – Citizens who filed suit accusing St. Clair County treasurer Charles Suarez of rigging bids at auctions of delinquent taxes did not abuse the court for political purposes, U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle ruled on Jan. 28.
She denied a motion to sanction them, finding no evidence that they intended to harass Suarez as he ran for reelection in 2014.
Suarez’s motion would have closed the case, including claims against tax buyers and the county itself, by branding it as a publicity stunt.
Suarez argued that lawyers who filed the suit merely mimicked allegations of suits they filed in Madison County.
“The court is not persuaded by defendants’ recitations of the political party affiliations of candidates and counsel,” Yandle wrote.
“Further, the fact that plaintiffs support their claims with events in a neighboring county is insufficient to create an inference that plaintiffs’ complaint was intended to harass defendant Suarez.”
Yandle also rejected his argument that plaintiffs sued him years after a statute of limitation had run out.
She wrote that the appropriate inquiry was whether the complaint contained enough facts to raise a reasonable inference that the limitation period was tolled.
“The court finds that it does,” she wrote.
Yandle cited an allegation in the complaint that tax buyers directed contributions to the Democrat Party instead of Suarez.
She cited allegations that he seated co-defendants at the front of the auction room and allowed other bids on less lucrative properties to cover up the conspiracy.
“The complaint further alleges that defendants’ conspiracy was inherently self concealing, so that plaintiffs could not have discovered through reasonable diligence that they had been injured until 2014,” she wrote.
County treasurers in Illinois must conduct reverse auctions where buyers of delinquent taxes compete to charge property owners the lowest interest rate.
In Madison County, from 2005 to 2009, treasurer Fred Bathon favored bidders who charged the legal limit of 18 percent.
Tax buyers in turn contributed to Democrat campaigns.
Bathon and three tax buyers pleaded guilty of criminal antitrust violations in 2013, and went to federal prison.
By then, property owners who paid 18 percent had filed three suits against the county, Bathon, and tax buyers in Madison County circuit court.
In 2014, Madison County treasurer Kurt Prenzler said at a press conference that he found similar bidding patterns in St. Clair County auctions.
Aaron Weishaar of St. Louis and Don Weber of Alton, who filed the suits against Madison County, then sued St. Clair County, Suarez, and tax buyers.
Lead plaintiffs John and Adrienne Bloyer later dropped out of the case, and Weishaar substituted Kevin Dvorak and Kathleen Dvorak.
In the Madison County actions, proceeding as a single case, visiting judge William Becker of Clinton County certified a class action last year.
Fifth District appellate judges denied review of the decision, but Illinois Supreme Court Justices ordered them to review it.