Chicago Sun-Times

DEBT SET­TERS

Data­base of gov­ern­ment liens ob­tained by the Sun-Times in­cludes names of well-known debtors, in­clud­ing lawyers, ath­letes and politi­cians

- BY TIM NOVAK AND MAX RUST,

Cook County Cir­cuit Judge Tommy Brewer is be­ing hounded by the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice.

The IRS has slapped Brewer with seven liens — two filed as re­cently as last year — seek­ing pay­ment of a to­tal of $227,559 in per­sonal in­come taxes while Brewer was an at­tor­ney in pri­vate prac­tice be­tween 1997 and 2010, the year the Illi­nois Supre­meCourt ap­pointed him to a va­cant seat on the Cook County bench.

“I’m a good guy,” the judge says. “I’m not try­ing to cheat any­body out of any­thing. I’m try­ing to bat­tle them as I can. I’m not say­ing I don’t owe them any­thing. I thought I owed them about $50,000. . . . I paymy tax re­li­giously.

“They’re just claim­ing that I didn’t file,’’ says Brewer, who’s among thou­sands of Cook County res­i­dents and busi­nesses the state or fed­eral gov­ern­ment have gone af­ter since 1985 for un­paid taxes, court fines or resti­tu­tion in crim­i­nal cases. “In the later years, they say I didn’t pay enough. So I went out and hired an ac­coun­tant. He sug­gested I start pay­ing them. I have an in­stall­ment agree­ment with them. I’m pay­ing them a pretty penny.”

Brewer, 64, is paid $190,258 a year as a judge, and, since his ap­point­ment, Illi­nois taxpayers have paid him a to­tal of $883,285.

His tax prob­lems be­gan more than a decade ago. The IRS filed its first lien against him in 2004, seek­ing $70,482 in in­come taxes for 1997, 1999 and 2000. And the liens kept mount­ing as Brewer made sev­eral failed at­tempts to get elected Cook County’s sher­iff or state’s at­tor­ney.

The IRS had filed five liens against Brewer, seek­ing to col­lect more than $207,000 in in­come taxes, when he landed a ju­di­cial ap­point­ment from

the Supreme Court in Novem­ber 2010. It’s un­clear whether the Supreme Court jus­tices were aware of Brewer’s tax prob­lems, though he regularly dis­closes his IRS debts on the state­ments of eco­nomic in­ter­est he files each year with the clerk of the Supreme Court.

The two liens the IRS filed last year against Brewer are for another $79,969 in in­come taxes owed from 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Brewer and the other Cook County res­i­dents and busi­nesses the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments have gone af­ter col­lec­tively owed hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, ac­cord­ing to 464,000 liens the IRS and other agen­cies have filed with the Cook County recorder of deeds since 1985.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to cal­cu­late the ex­act amount they owe. Many are pay­ing down their debts, but the liens for the to­tal amount re­main in place un­til the en­tire debt is paid. Oth­ers might have paid off their debts, but ei­ther the gov­ern­ment or debtors haven’t filed the doc­u­ments show­ing the debt has been set­tled.

And in some cases, the taxpayers have died, such as con­victed mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. He died in prison three years ago, but records show he owes the fed­eral gov­ern­ment $2.6 mil­lion of the $7.4 mil­lion in resti­tu­tion he was or­dered to pay af­ter a jury in the land­mark Op­er­a­tion Fam­ily Se­crets trial found him guilty of killing seven peo­ple.

Still, the data­base of gov­ern­ment liens ob­tained by the Chicago Sun-Times con­tains a trove of well-known debtors: ath­letes, politi­cians, prom­i­nent busi­ness own­ers and lawyers, aswell as peo­ple con­victed of high-pro­file crimes rang­ing from po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion to mur­der. They in­clude:

Neil Har­ti­gan, the for­mer Illi­nois at­tor­ney gen­eral who was the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for gover­nor in 1990, has spent the past decade bat­tling the IRS over more than $1.1mil­lion in in­come taxes.

Har­ti­gan, 77, says his tax prob­lems be­gan af­ter he de­cided to per­son­ally bankroll a pro­posed World Trade Cen­ter in River North, a pro­ject that never got off the ground. Har­ti­gan says he cashed in his sav­ings, in­clud­ing in­di­vid­ual re­tire­ment ac­counts, which left him with a huge tax li­a­bil­ity.

“I got this very sub­stan­tial prob­lem,” Har­ti­gan says. “Not only did I lose my sav­ings to try to save the trade cen­ter, but I had this tax bill. I had to go through bank­ruptcy. I lost ev­ery­thing. I gave [the IRS] ev­ery­thing I had.”

Since 2006, the IRS filed five liens against Har­ti­gan, aim­ing to col­lect more than $850,000. Also, the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Rev­enue filed a lien against him for $6,151 in in­come taxes.

Har­ti­gan has paid off his state debt. And he says he’s whit­tled down the fed­eral liens, one of which the IRS has re­leased. The IRS has taken a sub­stan­tial share of Har­ti­gan’s state pen­sion, which pays him $101,198 a year, as well as tak­ing a small por­tion of his So­cial Se­cu­rity checks, court records show.

“I’ve been work­ing the IRS over a pe­riod of years,” says Har­ti­gan, who lives in Rogers Park. “I’m al­most fin­ished with the thing.”

Les­lie Wal­green, whose great-grand­fa­ther founded what’s now one of the world’s largest phar­macy chains, got in trou­ble with the IRS af­ter spend­ing his for­tune bankrollin­g a com­pany that cre­ated web­sites.

“I took loans against my Wal­green stock to grow my com­pany,” Wal­green says. “All of a sud­den, the­mar­ket crashes, and I lost ev­ery­thing. I’m, like, broke.”

Four years ago, the IRS filed a lien against Wal­green for $1,566,434 it said he owed in in­come taxes from 2008. But his ac­coun­tant got the IRS to slash that to $46.48, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments Wal­green pro­vided. Wal­green says he paid the $46.48, though the IRS hasn’t re­leased the lien. The IRS won’t dis­cuss Wal­green’s case or any­one else’s.

A week af­ter Wal­green’s doc­u­ments show the IRS slashed his tax debt, the IRS filed another lien against him, this one for $53,856 in in­come taxes from 2009. That debt re­mains un­paid.

“I have been re­build­ing my life,” says Wal­green, 47, who now owns just one share in the com­pany that bears his name, al­low­ing him to at­tend board meet­ings. “And, once I can, I will pay it.”

Steve McMichael, a de­fen­sive tackle for the 1985 Chicago Bears team that won the Su­per Bowl, ran afoul of the IRS af­ter he re­tired from football and be­came a pro­fes­sional wrestler. Nine years ago, the IRS filed a lien against McMichael for $522,877 in in­come taxes for 1999 and 2000.

“I worked out a pay­ment plan,” McMichael says. “I pay $200 a month. That was a lot cheaper for me to do it this way. It’s just like a credit card. I’m pay­ing on those, too. Ev­ery­body can un­der­stand that.”

Rev. Corey Brooks, the “rooftop pas­tor” of New Begin­nings Church who pitched a tent on the roof of a di­lap­i­dated South Side mo­tel for three months in 2011 to raise money to tear down the build­ing, got slapped by the IRS with a lien for $42,833 in in­come taxes dur­ing the time he was camped out on the roof. Brooks has paid the debt, but the IRS filed two more liens against him last year for $48,385 in in­come taxes from 2012 and 2013.

“I was au­dited,” says Brooks, who was ap­pointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in July to a $31,426-a-year, part-time post on the board over­see­ing the Illi­nois State Toll High­way Au­thor­ity. “We had a dis­pute about what was owed. I’ve al­ways paid my taxes.”

Brooks’ ac­coun­tant says the pas­tor has been try­ing to work out a pay­ment plan with the IRS.

Joseph Mario Moreno, now serv­ing an 11-year prison term for so­lic­it­ing bribes from a hos­pi­tal sup­ply com­pany while he was a mem­ber of the Cook County Board, had a lien filed against him last year by the Jus­tice Depart­ment, seek­ing $134,192 in resti­tu­tion.

Moreno’s ex-wife Nancy is fight­ing fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors who are try­ing to seize part of his Cook County pen­sion and other as­sets to pay the debt.

Over the past few years, pros­e­cu­tors have stepped up their ef­forts to col­lect fines and resti­tu­tion owed to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and crime vic­tims. The U.S. at­tor­ney’s fi­nan­cial lit­i­ga­tion unit in Chicago col­lected more than $61.6 mil­lion dur­ing the past two fis­cal years, spokesman Joseph Fitz­patrick says.

Still, more than $3.8 bil­lion re­mains un­col­lected from fed­eral resti­tu­tion or­ders is­sued against res­i­dents of Cook County and other coun­ties in the fed­eral court sys­tem’s North­ern Dis­trict of Illi­nois, ac­cord­ing to the Jus­tice Depart­ment. Among them:

A $64.3 mil­lion lien against Peter Ro­gan, the long­time owner and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of now-closed Edge­wa­ter Hos­pi­tal, over what fed­eral author­i­ties have called a mas­sive Medi­care fraud. Ro­gan pleaded guilty last month to per­jury in the case.

A $7.5 mil­lion lien against mob­ster Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lom­bardo, now serv­ing a life sen­tence af­ter be­ing con­victed in the Fam­ily Se­crets case.

A $4.4 mil­lion lien against con­victed fraud­ster Daniel T. Fraw­ley, a for­mer busi­ness part­ner of Tony Rezko, the con­victed in­flu­ence-ped­dler who was a key cam­paign fundraiser for im­pris­oned for­mer Gov. Rod Blago­je­vich.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Tommy Brewer
Tommy Brewer
 ??  ?? Steve McMichael
Steve McMichael
 ??  ?? Betty Loren-Mal­tese
Betty Loren-Mal­tese

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