Ill. woman who missed tax payment stunned by note left on door

VENICE — Ora 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.

“I feel like I’d been taken over hot coals,” Leonard recalled to a visitor on a recent afternoon.

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