Federal authorities on Tuesday charged the recently re-elected mayor of far southwest suburban Channahon with failing to file four years of federal tax returns.
Joseph Cook, 45, allegedly failed to report more than $250,000 of income from 2005 to 2008, including earnings as mayor and liquor commissioner of about $16,000 a year, according to charges filed late Monday.
The unreported income also allegedly included his salary while working as a field engineer in Will County's land use and highway departments, where he was employed from 2003 through 2005, as well as revenue from his consulting firm, Phase One Solutions Inc., authorities said.
The timing of the charges — just months after local elections — left some village political observers scratching their heads. Cook, who is head of the Will County Governmental League and active in regional politics, was for a time last year in the running for a vacant state Senate seat.
He could not be reached Tuesday.
"It isn't something you would expect to see. All of us just wish the best for Joe," said Joe Pena, acting Channahon village administrator and police chief. He said the village had made all the proper tax withholdings in its payments to Cook. "As far as we can tell, since it has to do with his personal taxes, we hope it all gets resolved quickly."
"It's a shame it didn't come out sooner — the voters would've had a better idea who they were voting for," said former Channahon Mayor Wayne Chesson, who finished second in a three-way mayoral race to Cook last spring.
The six misdemeanor charges brought against Cook by federal prosecutors allege he didn't file his personal tax returns from 2005 to 2008 and also didn't file returns for his consulting business in 2007 and 2008, when it brought in more than $100,000.
An expert on criminal tax cases said the dollar amount involved was relatively low, so prosecutors likely brought a criminal case instead of a civil one because it involved a public figure.
"This is a typical example of an individual, and there are zillions of them out there, who didn't file returns," said Steven Blanc, a tax attorney who also teaches at Northern Illinois University. "The only reason he's being (criminally) charged is because he is a public official, and they get a lot of bang for their buck."
"There are a whole lot of people who will read this and say, 'Crap, which accountant do I call?'" said Blanc.
He predicted Cook, who could conceivably face up to 6 years in prison, would receive probation and be ordered to pay restitution if he pleads guilty.
The charges come almost exactly a week after the RTA and city of Chicago filed lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court alleging that Channahon and Kankakee, with help from several consulting firms, are improperly diverting sales tax revenues to their communities.
In Illinois, sales taxes are calculated where an offer is said to have been accepted, not where customers receive a product. So some firms have set up satellite offices in communities with lower tax rates.
These alleged distortions in sales tax collections mean that Kankakee and Channahon now lead the state in annual retail sales per capita with a rate 10 times that of Chicago, attorneys for Chicago told the Tribune last week.
Officials in the towns said that everything they are doing is above-board and legal.
"We're just being beat up here," Cook told the Tribune last week.