Two former employees of the Cook County appraiser's office and owner of a Chicago Heights fencing firm are facing federal charges in an alleged 2017 bribery scheme in which golf events, drinks and food were exchanged for a lower property tax assessment.
Robert Mitziga, owner of Fence Masters Inc., worked with Basilio Clausen—Crown Point, Indiana, business owner and former appraiser's office residential field inspector—and Lumni Likovski, then director of taxpayer services for the appraiser's office, to bribe employees in the office to degrade an assessment of the Mitziga and Clausen properties, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Lavdim Memisovki, a former commercial group leader for the appraiser's office, is also suspected of being part of the scheme, although prosecutors indicted him last July in a separate case.
In early 2017, Mitziga and an unnamed individual offered to pay for a golf outing for Clausen and other appraisal office employees. Clausen then took the offer to Likovski and Memisovski, who agreed to lower the appellate judgment themselves, working around the appraiser's office's random assignment system, according to their indictment.
After the first trip, Clausen left a voice message to the unnamed individual saying the appeal “wouldn't be a problem at all,” prosecutors said. The appraisal office employee was then taken on a second trip.
Mitziga, 65, and the unnamed individual split the costs of the two golf matches, which totaled about $3,500, in exchange for a reduced appraisal of nearly $28,000 for Mitziga, while the unnamed individual reduced the appraisal by about $53,000, prosecutors said.
Before the new assessment was returned, Mitziga asked for an even bigger tax cut because he had paid $114 more to play golf than the unnamed individual.
“Oh s—-, make sure (Memisovski) gives me a better deal than he (unnamed individual) got,” Mitziga said in a phone call with Clausen. “I paid more for this stuff.”
Likovski, who worked for county agencies for more than 20 years, was paid nearly $110,000 in 2019, more than 87% of county assessor employees, according to the Illinois Answers database. He was dismissed from his position in the assessor's office in December after officials at the agency said they were blindsided by the allegations.
It is unclear when the other two were released from the agency.
The office also said Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi had implemented a new two-step approval system for appellate judgments.
although it doesn't address the question of how that would stop a situation where multiple employees were involved in a bribery scheme
“The office of appraisal will continue to cooperate with federal authorities on any ongoing matters and take all appropriate actions to ensure the office maintains high ethical standards,” a representative for the office wrote in a statement to the Sun-Times on Sunday.
The three have been charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud. They each face five to 10 years in prison if convicted.