Related: Obama Advisor Valerie Jerrett’s Cook County Luxury Towers Assessed at 25% of Value – LINK
by Chuck Norton
Who gets damaged when journalists pining for access allow themselves to be the tools of political corruption?
Access is king for journalists and all too often journalists will do most anything to secure it. Just as CNN was forced to admit that it not only whitewashed the atrocities of Iraqi regime, but it also published and disseminated Saddam Hussien’s propaganda for over a decade in exchange for access. Such actions are not without consequences. The suffering associated with such corruption is very real.
Yesterday the Chicago Sun Times reported that, “two analysts working for Cook County’s tax appeals board were arrested and charged Wednesday with accepting a $1,500 bribe in exchange for greasing the wheels to slash property taxes to the tune of $14,000 on three properties”. According to federal prosecutors the two employees for the Chicago Board of Review (BOR), “discussed scheming with others to make property tax reductions in exchange for bribes” and “The two men worked for Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr. when the bribe was allegedly paid in 2008 …”.
Enter MyFox Chicago News reporter Dane Placko. Larry Rogers at the Chicago Board of Review (BOR) hands Placko a ready made, seemingly picture perfect scandal accusation. Members of the BOR accuse former employee Victor Santana of using his access to the BOR office and his former employee relationship with BOR member and Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios to peddle influence for the purpose of getting tax appeals greased for friends of the Democratic Party. The BOR, using Placko, very publicly assails Santana, singles him out and bans him from the BOR office premises; thus destroying his tax consulting business.
Placko even goes so far as to include the spin that Santana must have acted inappropriately because only attorneys are allowed to represent clients in front of the BOR and Santana is not an attorney; thus implying that Santana is somehow acting illegally. Of course this leaves out the fact that many such tax appeals are done without an attorney by private citizens acting on their own behalf. Santana, along with other tax consultants, merely aid their clients up to the point of the actual hearing in front of the BOR. Similarly, when one goes to a local H&R Block to have taxes prepared it is expected that each person in the office is not a tax attorney, but merely a trained consultant. But when a story is just too juicy to check, critical truths end up unreported.
Members of the BOR were aware that they were under investigation, so in order to present themselves as crusaders for justice, they invent the allegation against Victor Santana, who was a safe pick because he never made campaign donations to Rogers, Berrios, or his cronies. Santana was also friends with former Illinois 56th District Representative Paul Froehlich. Froehlich, who was an active member of the Republican Party, wished to continue to serve after his district had been redrawn to be a majority Democratic district, switched parties. Believing that he could represent constituents better than a hand picked machine candidate Froehlich defeated was victorious in the Democratic primary and went on to with the election. Froehlich became a targeted man, elements in the GOP wanted revenge and the Democratic machine didn’t trust him.
[See the RICO filing against the Chicago BOR HERE. The RICO complaint charges the Commissioners on the Board of Tax Appeals and their staff with extortion and bribery. It states that the Commissioners, powerful members of the Cook County Democratic Party and the Machine, grant tax reductions based upon the campaign contributions made by property tax law firms and lawyers who practice before the Board of Review. Institutionalizing “bribery and quid pro quo as the mandatory means for the adjudication of tax appeals” in Chicago.
I would like to see the property tax appeal success rate for Micheal Madigan’s property tax law firm that donates to the campaigns of all elected members of the BOR. Shall we ask Dane Placko to report it? In either case, the civil RICO filing is just the beginning as now it is known that the state and federal authorities have been investigating since 2008 – Political Arena Editor]
The Berrios machine now had their way to kill three birds with one stone and MyFox Chicago reporter Dane Placko, reveling in his access, became their willing tool. How?
It is no secret that after the mortgage bubble collapsed that millions of Illinois residents and businesses were left with tax assessments that were based on highly inflated values that required adjustment. Froehlich, having formerly been a township assessor, reached out to these constituents to help them get their tax assessments brought in line with post collapse market values as allowed by law, in some cases even going door to door. In short, Froehlich was doing what any concerned representative would do for his constituents.
Of course, since there were thousands of people that needed to have their assessments adjusted after the collapse, some of Froehlich’s constituents were willing to have a sign placed in their yard and some were campaign contributors.
Along comes Dane Placko to paint Froehlich as a corrupt politician who was trading tax assessments quid pro quo’s for donations and/or permission to place yard signs. It gets even better for the Berrios machine, because after Placko’s irresponsible reporting the BOR used that as an excuse to reverse the previously approved post mortgage collapse tax adjustments for Froehlich campaign contributors such as Sharad and Harish Dani who own a hotel in Schaumburg.
Victor Santana’s livelihood is destroyed because he wouldn’t pay to play, Froehlich’s career in politics is destroyed because he made the mistake of putting his constituents ahead of the political machines, those who would donate to candidates not entrenched in the machine are made an example of with inflated property tax bills, the corrupt party bosses at BOR appear as those who helped “root out this corruption”, and the icing on the cake; all of the genuine victims of this political corruption had their reputations trashed on MyFox Chicago courtesy of Dane Placko.
Placko’s “proof” – 94% of property tax adjustment Froehlich assisted with were approved, which is higher than the “traditional” number of approvals, but when have property values precipitously fallen for the length of time we are experiencing? Have not the number of property tax appeals and approvals gone up since the mortgage collapse? Is there anything traditional about this mortgage crisis?
Some of those whose reputations were trashed by Dane Placko such as Sharad and Harish Dani sued MyFox Chicago claiming defamation and false light regarding the stories that ran on MyFox Chicago News and subsequently by the blog Illinois Review, alleging the statements published and posted on the website were false and defamatory, and assumed criminal wrongdoing, but the plaintiffs will have to appeal all the way to federal court because a state law called the Illinois Citizen Participation Act is written in such a way that it gives news organizations near absolute libel immunity which stands at odds with Supreme Court precedent on libel law. How convenient. In short, the political machine in exchange for access, can use feed stories to reporters destroying the reputations of anyone they like until the law is challenged in federal court; an expensive proposition. The Illinois Citizen Participation Act is sold on the basis that it protects the little guy who speaks out, in practice it creates a David & Goliath scenario that favors media corporations and the state.
Is it any surprise that Dane Placko was the only reporter invited to a virtually closed hearing of the BOR on this matter? Attorney R. Tamara deSilva, who is representing some of the victims of this travesty tells us that Dane Placko demanded an exclusive interview with her clients or he would use (read edit in) the worst parts of his footage on the air just as he did in the following video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Nrq_nuDdc8] trashing Paul Froehlich. DeSilva’s answer to Placko’s threat is not suitable for publication.
Now that the cat is out of the bag and there are federal charges against employees of the BOR where is Dane Placko with a carefully edited video and big expose? Where is MyFox Chicago? All they have is this automated line story from the Associated Press on their web site with no local followup [and I head to use a search tool to find it].
No charges were ever filed against former Rep. Froehlich and the investigation resulted in no wrongdoing on his part. Froehlich said in a letter to Dane Placko:
Yet I still have the perpetual stigma of “under criminal investigation.” As the public record now stands, my obituary some day will repeat he “under investigation” accusation. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never been officially charged, much less indicted, I’m still guilty in the minds of Fox Chicago News viewers who translate repeated reports of “under criminal investigation” into “another crooked Illinois politician.” In other words, I get pretty much the same stigma as if I had been indicted and convicted — but without the due process.
When the news media public identifies someone as the target of criminal investigation, nothing ever comes of it, and there’s some doubt he ever was the target, who does he see to get his reputation back? Do journalists have any professional responsibility to update, if not to correct, the record? Or does the person whose reputation was sullied simply have to live with an indelible blot that follows him to the grave while the reporter keeps his award?
In a statement forwarded to us from Paul Froehlich:
I don’t agree with much that Rush Limbaugh has to say. I ran across this quote that hit home:
“The drive-by media. It’s like a drive-by shooter except the microphones are the guns, and they drive into groups of people, they report a bunch of totally wrong libelous stuff about people. Sometimes people get really harmed. They go out and try to destroy people’s careers.”
Were truer words ever spoken?
UPDATE – R. Tamara deSilva, attorney for the plaintiffs, will be in oral arguments in federal court this Tuesday July 24, 2012. Please examine the press release at the link below.
UPDATE II – Interesting link shows how the machine uses access as a weapon: Washington Times reporter files battery charges against Rahm Emmanuel’s staff – LINK