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2 Investigators: Some Property Owners Claiming More Than 1 Home For Tax Breaks

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Dominic Santoro became flustered when asked why he has been claiming multiple homeowner exemptions. (CBS)

Dominic Santoro became flustered when asked why he has been claiming multiple homeowner exemptions. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of property owners may be cheating the county by getting homeowners exemptions to which they are not entitled.

2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports.

Dominic Santoro is one example. He has homeowners exemptions on a home in Barrington and eight apartment buildings he owns in Rosemont.

Under the law, you can get one property-tax deduction using a homeowners exemption, but only if the home is your principle place of residence for that year. The application forms warn that “it’s against the law to supply false information.”

Zekman had a question for Santoro: “How can you live in nine places at the same time as a principle residence?”

“You can’t,” Santoro said.

He denied he is trying to cheat on his property taxes. He later told CBS 2 his exemption claims were “a mistake that will be rectified.”

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios said he is “totally appalled” by the case.

“Other people are picking up that person’s fair share of the property taxes,” he says.

The assessor’s office says exemptions for all the buildings saved Santoro about $87,000 in property taxes since 2002.

Based on complaints, Berrios estimates there are thousands more like Santoro.

In another case, a woman has exemptions for nine condos she owns on the city’s North Side. Her property-tax savings over the years totaled more than $72,000, according to the assessor’s office.

She had no comment when contacted by CBS 2.

Berrios has cancelled all the exemptions in these cases and says he will refer them to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for possible action.

The assessor says he’s pushing for a new state law that would give him the authority to collect past exemption savings, plus 18 percent interest and additional penalties.

“Once it is passed, it will give our office some real teeth and allow us to go after all these tax cheats,” Berrios says.

After a similar law was passed in Florida, Broward County collected $50 million in back taxes, an official there said.

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