Citing the receipt of new information, Brookfield Trustee Michael Garvey wants the village board to appoint a special investigator to delve into the 2002 real estate deal that paved the way for CVS Pharmacy to land in the village.
Last Friday, Garvey asked Village Manager Dave Owen to put his request for a special investigator on the agenda of the board’s Feb. 14 meeting to uncover completely the details of a nearly $15,000 loan Village President Bill Russ authorized to pay private real estate taxes owed to Cook County on a portion of the CVS property. That transaction was instrumental in the sale of the property to CVS in 2002.
“I believe this is necessary to determine what exactly happened in the past that allowed this check to be written for a private debt, despite legal advice against doing so,” Garvey wrote in a letter to Owen.
That “legal advice” is the new information Garvey said he had received anonymously. Russ and the village’s current law firm have maintained in the past that Russ was acting in accordance with the advice of their former lawyer, Robert Bush of Ancel, Glink, Diamond & Bush.
But the letter Garvey received contradicts that position, he said.
In a letter dated May 16, 2002 and labeled “personal and confidential” to Russ, Bush “expressed some strong hesitancy” about the deal, according to Garvey. The letter was sent to Russ over two months after a $14,754 check was cut to pay the back taxes on the former Santino’s Restaurant property in the 8900 block of Ogden Avenue, The Landmark was not provided with a copy of the letter by Garvey or the Village of Brookfield.
When asked why the letter wasn’t revealed previously, both Owen and Village Attorney Michael McGrath replied they didn’t know the letter existed.
“We were told we had the complete file,” McGrath said. “That letter is nowhere in village hall.”
The letter also reportedly includes a blank promissory note, which seems to indicate that the village was still trying to find a way to collect on its debt, despite the fact that Bush’s firm had prepared a 25-page loan document in March 2002.
The village has used the unsigned document as proof that the deal had gone through appropriate channels. Village officials, however, have yet to uncover a signed version of the document, and the loan was never discussed or voted upon by the village board despite the fact that the amount of money in question required such a vote.
The village received payment on its loan, plus interest, on Nov. 4, 2002 in a check totaling $15,420. Exactly how much interest the village ended up receiving is also in question, since the total loan amount listed in the unsigned loan document and the check cut to pay the back taxes do not match. Either way, the total interest is not more than $666.90.
But village records show that the village expended much more than that in legal bills to seal the deal, said Garvey.
“We paid $3,400 to $3,500 to our law firm that is directly attributable to trying to collect what we were owed,” Garvey said. “All the way through October of 2002 there were letters to secure payment.”
CVS wound up paying the owners of the Santino’s property $650,000 on Oct. 2, 2002. The owners of the restaurant had paid $365,000 for the land back in 2000.
The loan deal was made public in a Landmark report in June 2004. Since that time both the Better Government Association, an independent government watchdog group, and the Cook County State’s Attorney reportedly have been investigating the deal. Neither has released any of its findings to date.
When asked if the village would pursue hiring an independent investigator of its own, Owen said he had turned the matter over to McGrath for a recommendation.
McGrath didn’t expressly state a reluctance to appoint a special investigator, but stated that the matter had been investigated by four separate entities–his law firm, the village’s prior law firm, the BGA and the state’s attorneys office.
“Who’s a better independent investigator than the Cook County State’s Attorneys Office?” McGrath asked. “It’s a public law firm consisting of 1,000 attorneys.”