CHICAGO - Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown is in the middle of two different situations that raise questions of ethics violations - and both sticky settings involve her husband Benton Cook.
Ms. Brown hid when confronted recently by Fox News Chicago about property at the intersection of Pulaki, Ogden and Cermak of Chicago's South Side. Fox News and Better Government Association found that wealthy businessman Narendra Patel gave the office building to Brown's husband in 2011, to which he added Brown's name a month later.
Two months later, Brown and Cook transferred the deed to Sankofa, LLC - a for-profit company they run out of their South Side home. Records show that in November 2012, Sankofa sold the property to a private developer for an even $100,000.
Emily Miller of the Better Government Association says Brown may have violated state law by failing to disclose any of this on her Cook County statement of economic interest, which, among other things, requires elected officials to report any gifts over $500 in value. The Sun-Times reports that the Cook County inspector general has opened an investigation into the Brown-Cook property deal.
But then this week, Brown and her husband's names came up in a second eyebrow-raising situation.
While Cook was making the land deal with Patel, he was getting a salary, paid for by state tax dollars set aside to combat gun violence in the city.
State records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show that in 2011 Cook received $67,526 in salary and fringe benefits. Those documents, submitted to the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, even bear Cook’s own signature attesting to his salary and benefits as well as five other Chicago Area Project workers paid with Neighborhood Recovery Initiative funds.
In 2012, the organization told the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority Cook received $78,875 in salary and fringe benefits. State records spelling out that year’s totals for Cook and three other employees did not have Cook’s endorsement, as was the case in 2011, but they bore the signature of Howard Lathan, the Chicago Area Project’s associate executive director.
Having a politician's husband get over $145,000 in tax dollars didn't set well with Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who called for a review of how Governor Pat Quinn distributed $2.1 million in Neighborhood Recovery Initiative funds.
“It’s pure cronyism. I think it’s what people suspected was going on, and now here’s proof,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, who has called for a federal criminal investigation into Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. “Almost $150,000 to the spouse of a countywide elected official from the governor of the same party, that’s outrageous.”
Democrat Brown won her third term in 2012 with 59 percent of the vote.