From Charlie: ‘If these taxes are not paid … you lose this property’

ra Leonard, 73, first learned about Dennis Ballinger in July 2009.

That’s when Leonard, a retired nurse, found a note left by an employee of Empire Tax Corp., one of Ballinger’s Decatur-based firms, on the front door of her tidy brick house at 619 Broadway.

In the note, Ballinger warned Leonard that he had bought up her 2005 back property taxes.

“To avoid losing this/your property contact the Madison County Clerk immediately,” wrote Ballinger, who could not be reached for comment for this story. “If these taxes are not paid immediately you lose this property!!”

The note stunned Leonard. Until that moment, she said, she had no idea she had missed a property tax payment — or that doing so could mean losing the home she and her late husband had bought two decades before.

Leonard and her daughter-in-law spent the next four months navigating Madison County’s tax-buying system. It was a stressful period, a time of uncertainty, as they tried to raise the money to pay the taxes and penalties.  

Ballinger had bought up Leonard’s unpaid 2005 taxes at a sale conducted by then-Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon at an interest penalty of 18 percent, the legal maximum, county records show.

Leonard had missed her property taxes that year because she had just paid off her house mortgage, but still thought her bank was paying tax bills from an escrow account.

The tax sales conducted by Bathon from 2005 through 2009 are now the subject of state and federal investigations, prompted by a News-Democrat review of the sales. Bathon has declined requests for comment.

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One Response to From Charlie: ‘If these taxes are not paid … you lose this property’

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is actually a common practice here in Illinois..and the hoome owner is unaware that a tax redemption is in progress thus rendering them defenseless.

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