A longtime Cook County Board of Review worker pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge Friday, more than a year after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed he was under investigation by the FBI for lowering property assessments in exchange for cash.
Danilo “Danny B” Barjaktarevic, 49, faces a likely prison sentence of up to two-and-a-half years under federal sentencing guidelines, according to the feds. His sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 13.
His plea agreement anticipates that he will repay $21,000 he received during the investigation. The document also indicates he lied when he claimed that others at the Board of Review helped him lower assessments for bribes.
The criminal case against Barjaktarevic remained under seal on the court docket Friday morning, when he entered his plea during an open hearing before U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman.
Just before the hearing ended, Barjaktarevic told the judge he was “really sorry [for] what I did. I lost trust in my coworkers and the public.”
The Board of Review hired the high-profile law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila through a contract worth up to $110,000 to look into the allegations in the exclusive Sun-Times report. Last week, the firm reported that its work had been stymied when Barjaktarevic refused to be interviewed and claimed he forgot the passcode to his county-issued cellphone.
The firm also reported finding a “strong compliance culture at the Board of Review.”
A 45-page FBI affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times showed that Barjaktarevic claimed he was “just the middle guy” and that certain colleagues had factored the cash he was collecting into vacation plans.
The Sun-Times obtained the affidavit while it was publicly available on the U.S. District Court docket in 2021. It has since been sealed.
Barjaktarevic allegedly offered to have property assessments lowered for bribes — $2,000 for every commercial property; $1,000 for every residential property. Assessments are a key factor in calculating property tax bills.
The federal probe dates to at least January 2019 and involves an unnamed individual who was secretly cooperating with the feds and was separately under criminal investigation, according to the affidavit.
The feds filed their affidavit June 30, 2021, seeking a judge’s permission to search Barjaktarevic and his phone.
The cooperator broached the idea of having property assessments lowered for an associate of his on July 13, 2020, according to the affidavit. His conversations with Barjaktarevic eventually resulted in him sending property index numbers by email for 18 commercial properties and seven residential properties on Jan 5, 2021.
Barjaktarevic allegedly told the cooperator in a phone call later that day that “everything’s doable.” He allegedly said, “on these commercial pieces … they want 2K a piece … ’cause then it gets split up between everybody.” For residential properties, he allegedly said “it’s, uh, a grand a piece.”
“Half now and half when it’s completed,” Barjaktarevic allegedly said, later agreeing on $21,000 for the first half.
The cooperator delivered the money to Barjaktarevic in a Skokie parking lot on Jan. 15, 2021, according to the affidavit. The cooperator said, “sorry it’s not a little bit more organized, brother, but count it.” Barjaktarevic allegedly replied, “I ain’t gonna count it … I’ll count it when I get home.”
A photo of Barjaktarevic holding the money also appeared in the feds’ affidavit.
Barjaktarevic suggested his cut would be $250 per property, and his colleagues would get the rest, saying, “I’m gonna get outta this one, 250’s f—ing my cut. Which, f— it. I don’t give a f—. I’m just the middle guy pushing.”
Barjaktarevic allegedly sent the cooperator the new assessments May of that year. Then, when the two talked the following month, the cooperator said he had told his associate, “you saved $99,000, around $99,059, somewhere in that range.”
But the associate still owed another $22,000, according to the affidavit. After the cooperator suggested delaying the payment, Barjaktarevic allegedly said he spoke to his colleagues and “got my f—ing head chewed off.”
“They said, ‘We made a deal. We proved to him that we’re [re]liable,’” Barjaktarevic allegedly said on June 9, 2021. “He goes, ‘They already accounted for that money for their vacations and s—.’”
On June 10, 2021, the cooperator allegedly sent Barjaktarevic a phone message that read, “All good for the 22. I’ll have it before the holiday.” Then, on June 22, 2021, he sent a message asking if they could meet July 1, 2021, according to the feds.
“That’s fine see you on the 1st,” Barjaktarevic allegedly replied.