Property tax deals?

If you've fought to lower your property taxes, but failed, you're going to want to see our WGN investigation. We found that if you've got the right family connection, you have a spectacular chance to lower your property tax.

You may not know his name, but it's a sure bet every property tax attorney in Chicago does. He's Robert Kruse. Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios picked him to be his Chief Deputy, the number two guy. He has the power to lower your taxes. With a stroke of a pen, Kruse can save businesses millions of dollars.

So who is he?

Kruse grew up in Chicago. His mother was a vaudeville performer and the Chicago Crime Commission identified his father, Leslie "Killer Kane" Kruse, as a member of the mob. His dad dabbled in real estate and his son later followed in those footsteps.

Before going to work for Assessor Berrios, Kruse worked at 29 South LaSalle, suite 800, where Madison Appraisal has its offices. Madison appraises properties that go before the assessor hoping for tax reductions.

A WGN-TV investigation found Kruse is still using the Madison office as headquarters to at least four of his other businesses. If you looked at the County's Economic Interest Statement filed by Kruse, you would never know about his ties to Madison. It lists just one other business spelled two different ways on the same form.

David Morrison with the Illinois Campaign for political reforms says the statement needs to be improved, "The official in office can say here's this company I work for without noting that it shares office space with someone else who also appears before the office." That he says can lead to all kinds of conflicts.

Like this one. Madison Appraisal employs Kruse's son. The Chief Deputy is business partners with the owner and chief appraiser for Madison. When Madison does the appraisals, it is often for a law firm, Crane & Norcross. They employ the sister and father of Madison Appraisal's owner. It is a family affair.

There is more.

In the months before Robert Kruse's boss Assessor Joe Berrios was elected, Crane & Norcross won 67 percent of the property tax appeals filed with the assessor - about average.

After Berrios won the election, when Crane & Norcross used Madison Appraisal, they won 80 percent of their appeals.

It gets better. When Crane & Norcross specifically used Kruse's son, who remember works at Madison Appraisal, they won tax breaks in a whopping 93 percent of the cases.

"It looks like favoritism based on a family relationship that benefits private families at a cost to the public said David Morrison. He added, "taxpayers who don't know who's related to whom and who they should hire are going to wind up paying more in property taxes."

No one from the Assessor's office would speak with us saying in a statement WGN-TV is on a witch-hunt. Keep in mind every time Berrios gives a business a tax reduction, someone else must pick up the slack.

You might think there's a law or rule preventing this kind of cozy relationships. There is none we could find. Neither Crane & Norcross nor Madison Appraisal would speak with us. Robert Kruse's son said, "I benefit nothing. I'm not a client. I don't have an aspiration to be an appraiser, I'm just an employee." In his statement, Assessor Berrios said any current employees recused themselves from working on appeals filed by their former private employers. We tried to verify that, but Berrios refused to show us the work records.