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Board of Review hired law firm to investigate bribery allegations – but will the public see their work?

The Cook County Board of Review last year hired a high-profile Chicago law firm on a deal worth up to $110,000 to investigate alleged bribery at the county office — but it’s unclear if the public will see the results of the firm’s work .

The investigative services contract between the Board of Review and Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP was signed in early September, two months after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the FBI was investigating a member of the Board of Review.

This employee allegedly used his position to lower property valuations in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes. Tax assessments are an important factor in calculating property tax bills. The clerk reportedly said the money would be shared with others in the office, insisting “I’m just the middle guy”.

These allegations emerged in a 45-page FBI affidavit obtained from the Sun-Times while it was publicly available on the US District Court record last summer. It has since been kept under wraps. In the months that followed, no related criminal charges appear to have been filed, and the Sun-Times has not named the employee because he has not been criminally charged.

A source with knowledge of the federal investigation said it is ongoing. The employee did not respond to messages asking for comment.

The contract between the Board of Review and Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila, obtained from the Sun-Times through the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the deal took effect on September 8th and is due to be completed by March 7th . The company agreed to interview staff on the Board of Review and collect and review documents “in relation to the allegations made in the Sun-Times article.”

It agreed to produce a “PowerPoint presentation and a comprehensive written report setting out the findings of the investigation”. And it said it would represent the review panel “in communications with federal agencies” related to the allegations.

The contract names Patricia Brown Holmes, a managing partner of the firm and a former federal prosecutor, as the district’s primary contact for the contract. Holmes, reached by The Sun-Times earlier this week, declined to discuss the investigation, calling it “a customer matter”.

William O’Shields, chief deputy commissioner of the board of review, said the board is still awaiting a PowerPoint or written report from the company. And he confirmed it’s due by the end of the contract term on March 7, “unless something changes.”

When asked if the report would be made public, O’Shields said, “I can’t tell you for sure.”

“There is also an ongoing federal investigation,” O’Shields said. “And so one of the challenges in our internal investigation is that we can’t compromise this ongoing federal investigation.”

The Board of Review official at the center of the FBI investigation is said to have offered to lower property valuations over bribes — $2,000 for each commercial property; $1,000 for each residential property.

The worker allegedly made arrangements to meet with a cooperating witness on July 1 to raise $22,000 under the scheme. The FBI filed its affidavit on June 30, requesting a judge’s permission to search the review board clerk and his phone.

O’Shields said the employee was on paid leave.

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