CHICAGO — A Brighton Park grocery store owner and city employee were charged in separate real estate tax kickback schemes, officials said Thursday.
Victor Benitez, 57, a Brighton Park grocery store owner, was charged with felony theft of government property for stealing $70,000 worth of homeowner exemption checks issued by the Cook County Treasurer's Office, according to a statement from Cook County State's Attorney's Office.
Maria Gonzalez, 54, a taxpayer information senior specialist in the Assessor's Taxpayer Services Department, was charged with felony official misconduct for accepting more than $9,000 in kickbacks from homeowners she helped receive real estate tax refunds.
State's Attorney Anita Alvarez called the schemes "shameful."
"There is simply no tolerance for the theft of public money anywhere in Cook County government and we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute these crimes," she said in a statement.
Benitez stole 48 Homeowner Exemption checks between October 2009 and October 2010. The checks were for multiple years on 17 different Cook County properties, and he had them delivered to his address and post office boxes of friends and relatives, officials said.
Benitez then used the checks to purchase stock for his grocery store, such as prepaid phone cards, produce and grocery items. None of the property owners applied for the exemption checks or ever saw them, the statement said. Signatures on the backs of the checks were forged.
In her position with the city, Gonzalez was responsible for reviewing applications and inputting information that led to the issue of checks to homeowners for tax refunds. On four occasions between April 2010 and February 2011, she accepted kickbacks from customers to get them refunds, the statement said.
She asked for kickbacks of 20 to 50 percent of the refunds. Some customers did not qualify for refunds because they had rental properties, officials said.