CLEVELAND) - Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said Friday that he will deploy a team of state investigators and forensic accountants to examine irregularities in the appraisals that are used to value real estate for property tax purposes in Cuyahoga County over the past decade.
Cordray, who served as both Franklin County Treasurer and Ohio Treasurer before being elected Ohio Attorney General last fall, said that any manipulation of property values would have affected all citizens and taxpayers and may have shortchanged key local services such as police, fire, social services, and schools.
"We have been monitoring these events closely and are deeply concerned about admitted and alleged wrongdoing by public officials and those in the private sector who have been entrusted to do the people's business. We are specifically disturbed by new allegations regarding Cuyahoga County's property tax appraisal process and the potential impact of unfairness at the core of that system. Any long-term, systematic rigging of property taxes would undermine those things that maintain our basic quality of life and would destroy the public's confidence in the fundamental certainty that we share the burdens and benefits of local government fairly and equitably," Cordray said.
As a result of an ongoing federal investigation, details have emerged about criminal activity related to property appraisals for the county. Under Ohio law, when requested by local authorities or the Governor, the Attorney General can lead investigations into and take action to address such wrongdoing.
Attorney General Cordray received three such requests Thursday.
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland requested in a September 24 letter that Cordray "use all powers and authority provided the Attorney General by the Ohio Constitution and the laws of Ohio to assist and work collaboratively with all federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities and other governmental officials to detect, establish, prosecute and/or correct illegal or other unauthorized activity associated with the ongoing criminal probe in Cuyahoga County."
"Residents and businesses in Cuyahoga County rely on a fair, uncorrupted appraisal process to fund the operations of schools and government. It is imperative that any potential corruption of the process is rooted out and integrity restored," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason stated in a September 24 letter to Cordray.
Cuyahoga County Sheriff Bob Reid also wrote to Cordray on September 24: "We are concerned with the possible erosion of public confidence in the Cuyahoga County Auditor's Office and welcome the investigation to ensure the public trust."
Cordray confirmed that his office would work closely and cooperatively with federal authorities in these matters.
"We understand that the federal investigation is longstanding and ongoing," Cordray said. "I have spoken with the federal officials involved and pledged to coordinate our efforts so as not to impede or hinder their work in any way. Our primary goal is to carefully examine the facts affecting the county's tax system to correct any problems and ensure that schools, social services, and county taxpayers are being treated fairly across the board," Cordray said.
Cordray said he had also been contacted in recent days by the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, the Cuyahoga County Treasurer, and Lakewood's Mayor seeking assistance in addressing these issues.