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Madison County calls for inquiry into tax sales

By Mandi Rice, St. Louis Public Radio

ST. LOUIS – Madison County officials are asking the Illinois Attorney General to investigate possible wrongdoing by their former county treasurer.

A report published Sunday in the Belleville News Democrat questioned the way former treasurer Fred Bathon auctioned off late property taxes.

In the sales, an outside party pays the late tax on a property, and gets to charge interest to the property owner. The interest rate is determined at an annual auction run by the Treasurer's office.

Under Bathon, interest rates averaged about 18 percent, the highest rate allowed by law and much higher than in other counties. The investigation by the News Democrat also found that Bathon received campaign donations from tax buyers totaling $140,000.

County Board Member Jean Myers is among those calling for investigation.

"Our constituents are being asked to redeem their properties at these exorbitant interest rates and some of them are even losing their properties," she said. "What we are doing is working through this in a legal manner so that we can get some resolution for our taxpayers."

Bathon retired in 2009, and Frank Miles was appointed to take his place. Miles said in a statement Monday that he has dramatically altered the way the auctions are conducted, and that interest rates have fallen by about 50% under his tenure.

Bathon did not return calls for comment.

>>Original statement document (PDF)


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