For weeks now, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has maintained she doesn’t know whether she’s the target of a federal corruption investigation, even as it swirled openly around her.
You might have thought that when federal agents stopped Brown on the street with a warrant that allowed them to confiscate her cellphone that she would have taken the hint.
Instead, she stood last month before Cook County Democratic committeemen seeking to dump her from the ticket and theatrically claimed to still be in the dark.
If there was any remaining shred of doubt in the mind of Brown or anyone else, it should have been erased Friday when U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon announced the indictment of a former clerk’s office employee.
In the indictment and accompanying news release, prosecutors couldn’t have more plainly put the bull’s eye on Brown if they’d produced a can of red paint and drawn concentric circles around her omnipresent strand of pearls.
Sivasubramani Rajaram, of Glenview, is accused of lying under oath to a grand jury about the circumstances surrounding his 2014 hiring, which followed him making a purported $15,000 loan to a company controlled by Brown’s husband, Benton Cook III.
I think “purported” refers mostly to the concept of it being a loan. You can bet the money changed hands. Whether it was ever supposed to be repaid is another matter, although either way it could constitute a crime if Brown knew about it.
The U.S. attorney’s office said the indictment stemmed from “an investigation of possible criminal violations in connection with the purchasing of jobs and promotions within the clerk’s office.”
It probably goes without saying, but if somebody was purchasing jobs and promotions, then somebody was selling them, too, somebody with power over those decisions.
And that’s not something Brown would be able to lay entirely at the feet of her husband, no matter how extensive his alleged role or Svengali-like influence.
According to the indictment, Rajaram fibbed when he told the grand jury he had not spoken to Brown since his hiring. He also allegedly fibbed when he said he’d spoken with another high-ranking clerk’s employee, identified only as Individual B, “three or four times” — and not by telephone — when in truth they’d conversed by cellphone dozens of times.
Translation: The feds have information — probably a combination of phone records and cooperating witnesses, likely including Individual B — that would prove Rajaram is lying, and they plan to use that as leverage to force him to testify against Brown about whatever arrangements they might have had.
Earth to Planet Dorothy: Investigators are not going to all this trouble to light up some mope named Sivasubramani Rajaram.
He is being used to send a message to others caught up in the alleged jobs scheme to come clean, and to make Brown feel the pressure.
If she hasn’t already, Brown might want to rethink filing her petitions to seek re-election, which are due by Nov. 30.
Cook County voters, African-American voters especially, sometimes are willing to give a candidate under investigation the benefit of the doubt, especially one who has not been charged.
But they don’t like to be played for suckers either when an indictment is so clearly in the works.
Friday’s indictment was good news for Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who was picked by Cook County Democrats to replace Brown as the party’s endorsed candidate, but not so much for independent Jacob Meister, whose best chance is for Brown and Harris to split the vote.
In a video recently released by the 5LINX marketing business, Brown boasted of how she has achieved “financial independence” while serving as clerk by selling the company’s products on the side.
Rajaram’s $15,000 loan was allegedly made to a business named Goat Masters Corp., of which Brown’s husband Cook is the president.
We haven’t been able to entirely sort out what this company did, or how it derived its name, although there is some indication it had something to do with a meat business.
Before this case is over, I’m wondering if Pig Masters might have been more appropriate.