Josephine’s Cooking is a South Side institution popular among soul food fans and politicians, but records show it hasn’t paid its property taxes in 12 years.
In total, the owners – “Mother” Josephine Wade and her son Victor Love – owe more than $500,000 in taxes and penalties.
As a result, they risked losing the property to real estate speculators, who could pay the taxes owed and take possession of the building, potentially evicting the restaurant.
But, for years, this was prevented by the Cook County Land Bank Authority, a county government agency that was created to eliminate overdue taxes on vacant and derelict properties to facilitate their purchase and redevelopment.
The land bank continued to make claims for the building, although it never followed through by taking possession of the property or clearing the property taxes, and it continued to drop its claims.
But it prevented anyone from paying taxes and perhaps repossession of the property.
That allowed Wade to hang on to the restaurant, which got a makeover in 2019 on the Food Network‘s “Restaurant: Impossible” as his unpaid taxes at 436 W. 79th St. in Chatham continued to pile up.
Why the land reserve intervened is unclear. Its rules prohibit the agency from dealing with occupied businesses and homes.
So why did the agency ignore its policies and make claims about Josephine’s restaurant and several other businesses in Chicago and the suburbs?
“These are all good questions,” says Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who along with Cook County Council Speaker Toni Preckwinkle established the land bank in 2013 and remains chair of its council. administration.
Asked about Josephine and the other properties by Chicago Sun-Times reporters, Gainer says the land bank has now hired former Cook County judge Patricia Brown Holmes to conduct a ‘top-down’ review of the policies. and agency procedures, which the Sun-Times reported was under federal investigation.
Gainer won’t say why the land bank filed a claim on Josephine, dropped her, and then made her again.
Records show that the restaurant’s overdue taxes were auctioned off in February to the highest bidder – an ex-con who owes $1.9 million in restitution after being convicted of selling stolen cellphones.
Tax buyer Yasin A. Yasin says he hopes to become a landlord but plans to let Josephine stay as a tenant.
“I’m not trying to take the bread and butter away from these people,” Yasin says. “He’s a pillar of the community.
Wade, 79, says she knew nothing about Yasin and her application for the building that housed the restaurant she and her husband opened in the 1980s, then known as Capt’s Hard Time Dining.
She said she was going to ask her lawyer what her options were.
“We do more than sell food,” Wade says. “We do a lot of outreach and help for the homeless, and I’m just tired. . . It just went from one disaster to another.
The restaurant — on a stretch of 79th Street that City Hall has given the honorific name of Mother Josephine Wade Way — is popular with politicians.
Govt. JB Pritzker spent more than $20,000 restoring Josephine’s during his campaign in 2018.
Wade’s son, who oversees operations at Josephine, asked Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), a longtime friend and regular patron, to help save the restaurant.
Sawyer says he’s not sure he can.
“I was trying to find investors to help them out” before Yasin could ask a judge for the deed, Sawyer says. “It’s a staple in my parish. It is a center of activity.
Sawyer and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) appeared on “Restaurant: Impossible” to celebrate the revamped restaurant’s big reveal.
Sawyer says he ate at Josephine’s with former land bank executive director Robert Rose, who held that position when the agency filed claims for Wade and Love’s taxes in 2015 and 2019. effectively preventing anyone from trying to appropriate.
Rose left the land bank when her contract expired in 2021, as a federal grand jury began investigating the agency. He did not respond to messages seeking comment.
When the land bank was created, Gainer said it was intended to help revitalize low-income neighborhoods struggling with vacant properties on which taxes hadn’t been paid for years. These properties are often difficult to redevelop because they are worth less than the amount of taxes owed. The land bank has the power to step in, eliminate tax arrears, and then sell those properties to new owners.
Cook County has thousands of such properties. Each year, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas hosts a tax sale, effectively providing an investment opportunity for anyone who wishes to pay unpaid taxes from the previous year. If taxes on a property are purchased for sale, usually by real estate investors, then the owner must repay, with interest, the amount of previously unpaid taxes. Failing this, the tax purchaser can request the deed from a judge.
After the taxes have been unpaid for three or more years, the treasurer offers them at a reduced price at a treasure sale, selling them at auction for as little as $250. This year’s sale included 31,000 properties.
Winning bidders must acquire the deed within four years or they lose their money, and the unpaid taxes go back to the auction at the next treasure sale.
The only way for landowners to keep their land is to pay all their outstanding taxes.
The land reserve exercises a special power during sales to scavengers. He can jump the line before anyone else interested in a building, grabbing any property without having to pay anything.
He can retain these properties for years, as he did with Josephine.
The restaurant has not paid its property taxes since March 2010, according to county records.
The taxes ended up being offered at a treasure sale, where the land bank claimed the property in January 2016, which prevented anyone from bidding at that time or at the following sale, in July. 2017.
The land bank returned the property to the county treasurer’s office in July 2018 without taking steps to take ownership.
A year later, he foreclosed on the restaurant again — along with vacant land and another storefront belonging to Wade — in the July 2019 treasure sale.
Then, last August, the agency again walked away from the restaurant without moving to get the deed, records show, but retained its rights to Wade’s other two properties.
The land bank claims in July 2019 came weeks after Wade declared bankruptcy in June 2019.
In her filing for bankruptcy court protection, she revealed she owned seven properties in Chicago and listed her biggest debt as a $487,000 judgment for not paying off the restaurant’s mortgage with the company. ‘Urban Partnership Bank.
The bankruptcy case was dismissed after five months, with most of his debts erased.
Wade had stopped paying the loan as well as the restaurant taxes in 2010, although she continued to file appeals with the Cook County Assessor and the Cook County Board of Review, which reduced the assessment of the restaurant. This reduced his property taxes – which the restaurant was still not paying.
Court records show Wade was convicted of financial fraud twice.
In 2008, the Justice Department filed a lien against her for $219,259 in restitution she owed following a 1993 conviction in a mortgage fraud case in which she was sentenced to 48 months in prison. She was released on February 27, 1996.
An appeals court ruling said the facts of this case were similar to those of Wade’s earlier conviction for bank fraud in 1984, saying both cases “involved Wade submitting false information to financial institutions. credit to encourage them to make loans“.
At this year’s treasure sale, the treasurer auctioned off the taxes that Wade and his son failed to pay on the restaurant from 2009 to 2018, for a total of $435,202. The winning bid came from Yasin, who paid $17,500 in cash.
Yasin, 39 — who went to jail for a federal mail fraud conviction — has four years to petition a Cook County judge for the restaurant’s deed. He is expected to pay all unpaid taxes since 2019. The restaurant’s tax bill last year was $25,755.
According to federal court records, Yasin was part of a ring 16 years ago that prosecutors say stole and resold cellphones across the country. He pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 2013 and was sent to prison for 39 months. The judge ordered him to pay $1.9 million in restitution, a debt that remains on the books.
For the past five years, Yasin says, he has worked in construction and development.
Wade and his son’s restaurant was one of six properties he successfully completed tax sale offers on, paying a total of $35,900. Back taxes collectively amounted to $790,000. The properties had previously been claimed by the land reserve and returned to the treasurer’s office.
Yasin says he was working with “a team” to submit claims during the treasure sale, declining to identify his partners.
Ira Kaufman, his attorney, says Yasin worked with his brother-in-law Majdy Joudeh, a developer who rehabilitated other properties he bought from the land bank.