After reviewing allegations against Brookfield Village President Bill Russ for his role in authorizing a $14,754 check to pay private real estate taxes without village board approval, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is not conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.
Despite repeated statements from both Russ and his accusers that the State’s Attorney was investigating the matter, a Cook County State’s Attorney official who requested anonymity said that while they had been made aware of the allegations, “the allegations do not appear to be a criminally investigative matter.”
The statement comes on the heels of a letter distributed to village trustees and the press at the March 14 meeting of the Brookfield village board. The letter, from Patrick Driscoll, chief of the State’s Attorneys Civil Actions Bureau, was in response to a letter sent Feb. 28 by Village Attorney Michael McGrath.
Driscoll wrote in the letter that his bureau “will not be taking any action with regard to this matter.” Distribution of the letter appeared to be an attempt to clear Russ of any wrongdoing with regard to the loan.
However, Driscoll said last week that his reply was a “courtesy” to McGrath’s letter, and that he was only aware of the facts of the case through McGrath’s letter, which specifically asked Driscoll’s office to investigate trustees Michael Garvey and Kit Ketchmark for allegedly taking campaign contributions in exchange for votes.
Driscoll’s letter makes clear that his bureau would be investigating neither the loan nor the allegations against the trustees.
“It was not meant to be a sign of approval or ratification of anything the village board has done,” Driscoll said. “I don’t know enough of the facts, all I received was correspondence from McGrath.”
Attempts to contact Russ for comment on the new information by both e-mail and phone were not returned.
The original allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Russ were, according to McGrath’s letter, referred to the State’s Attorney’s Office by Cook County Commissioner Anthony Peraica, who lives in neighboring Riverside.
Peraica confirmed that he had referred the matter to the Governmental and Financial Crimes Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office, not the Civil Actions Bureau, last year.
Since news of the loan became public, Russ and McGrath have defended the action, saying that the loan was repaid in full, including interest, and ultimately resulted in the construction of the CVS Pharmacy at Ogden and Prairie avenues. The loan, they have contended, resulted in an improvement to the village.
But, Ketchmark, the trustee who first made the matter public in June 2004, said the information doesn’t change his opinion that Russ overstepped his authority by either directly or indirectly authorizing the check to be paid without the knowledge or approval of the board.
“It’s clear you have a violation of local ordinances,” Ketchmark said. “And you have the whole ethical aspect of this. For a village president to instruct someone, directly or indirectly, to write a check to pay off a friend’s property taxes is an abuse of power.
“You have a village president who has certainly gone over the ethical line.”