Goat meat, jeans day and a free building: 5 controversies that engulfed Dorothy Brown’s office
The embattled public servant announced Wednesday she would not seek reelection.
During her nearly 20 years in office as the city’s circuit court clerk, Dorothy Brown has been no stranger to controversy.
As the embattled public servant announced Wednesday she would not seek reelection — amid a federal investigation into her office and a growing slew of challengers — here’s a look at some of the scandals that have plagued her office:
Top aides found guilty of lying in pay-to-play scheme investigation
Beena Patel, a top aide to Brown, was found guilty in April by a federal jury of lying to a grand jury investigating allegations of job selling in Brown’s office. Defense attorneys maintained Patel was a “scapegoat” in the investigation, which had not resulted in charges against Brown. Patel’s attorney, Walter Jones Jr., told jurors in his closing argument that the “mighty government juggernaut” failed to land the “big tuna” in Brown’s office and that they attempted to save face after the six-year investigation by charging Patel.
In February 2017, another Brown aide, Sivasubramani Rajaram, was found guilty by a federal judge, also of lying to a grand jury. The feds said he lied twice to the FBI and bought his job in Brown’s office with a $15,000 “loan” to a goat meat company — Goat Masters — that is tied to Brown and her husband.
Allegations that $10K could buy a job in Brown’s office
Brown faced tough questions, but no charges, after it was revealed in February last year that a former employee told federal investigators the going rate for a job in Brown’s office was $10,000. According to federal documents, employees in Brown’s office also had the general impression that “financial benefits to the clerk could result in securing promotions.”
A Sun-Times investigation published the following month found that 15 workers got promotions within six months after they and their families made a total of more than 50 campaign contributions to Brown.
Getting green to wear blue jeans
Word that Brown had a practice in her office of charging employees for the right to wear blue jeans at work caused a stir when it was reported that employees could pay between $2 and $10 to do so.
But a 2010 investigation by the county’s watchdog agency found no wrongdoing after a review of available records found that 93% of the funds raised went to charitable causes.
Brown claimed vindication, even as she previously scrapped the program.
But Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard also found that some of the same accounts the funds were held in were used to purchase Bulls tickets, Great America tickets and for employee parking expenses, which created the possibility of commingling funds.
“The evidence reviewed failed to support the existence of fraud, embezzlement, theft, or misuse of funds in relation to the Jeans Day collections process,” according to the report. “The evidence however did reveal an internal control weakness in the Jeans Day Collection process.”
Ex-employee claims he was fired for not purchasing Brown fundraiser tickets
A former employee of the clerk’s office, Benjamin Zomaya, sued Brown in 2004, claiming he was fired two years earlier after he refused to purchase tickets for her political fundraisers. Zomaya claimed that he was subjected to harassment and false accusations by his supervisors as a result.
The case was dismissed a year later, court records show.
Brown’s husband gets $100K property from campaign fundraiser
Scrutiny of Brown’s dealings followed a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and Fox 32 News into how Brown’s husband, Benton Cook III, ended up with a $100,000 piece of property that was gifted by a donor.
The building was given to Cook in 2011 by fundraiser and donor Narendra Patel — brother to later-convicted aide Beena Patel. Brown and her consulting company ended up on the title of the parcel at 2201 S. Pulaski in Chicago, and in November 2012 Brown’s company sold the land for $100,000, according to public records.
Brown never reported it as either a gift or a campaign contribution.
Patel, now deceased, and his lawyer said the nearly century-old commercial building was given to Brown’s husband because it was dilapidated, not worth much and that Patel just wanted to get rid of it. They said it was not intended as a political donation and that Patel wanted nothing in return.
Blanchard’s investigation of the land deal led to the involvement of Cook County and federal prosecutors, which also focused on allegations that jobs and promotions were being sold at Brown’s agency.