Judge’s ruling damages federal bribery case implicating Dorothy Brown, but feds could recover

Prosecutors have said Donald Donagher Jr. conspired with his company to bribe Brown and other elected clerks with gifts, campaign contributions, consulting contracts and donations to affiliated charities.

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Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown

Dorothy Brown when she was Cook County Circuit Court Clerk

Sun-Times file photo

In a rare blow to federal prosecutors, a judge said Friday he would dismiss some counts in a 2019 bribery indictment that implicated former Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, though he seemed to give the feds room to revive the charges.

The feds have made no secret that they once targeted Brown in a years-long corruption probe. However, Brown has never been charged and denies wrongdoing. She left office last year. And while other cases resulting from the feds’ probe have been resolved, their case against Donald Donagher Jr. and Penn Credit Corp. has lingered.

The feds in 2019 said Penn Credit, a Pennsylvania debt-collection company owned by Donagher, conspired to bribe Brown and other elected clerks in Florida with gifts, campaign contributions, consulting contracts and donations to affiliated charities.

In February 2012, Donagher allegedly told an employee to make hundreds of thousands of robocalls to Cook County residents for Brown’s campaign, neither collecting payment nor sending an invoice to Brown. Instead, later that year, Donagher allegedly sent an email to two of Penn Credit’s lobbyists in Illinois and told them to make sure Penn Credit was getting the same amount of debt collection work from Brown’s office as a competitor.

“Just a reminder that we made a sh—load of calls for [Brown],” Donagher allegedly wrote. “Have you received all of the numbers we requested to make sure everything is equal?”

In July 2013, Donagher also allegedly sent an email to two of his employees and an Illinois lobbyist about a Brown campaign fund-raiser. Donagher allegedly wrote, “We will give as much plus a dollar,” as compared to a competing debt-collection company.

However, in a ruling he announced from the bench Friday morning, U.S. District Judge John Lee said the charges related to campaign contributions had to show an “explicit” quid pro quo. The judge said the indictment “as currently stands does not sufficiently do that.”

The judge dismissed three of the six counts in the indictment, all dealing with campaign contributions meant to benefit Brown. He also said a bribery conspiracy count could not move forward as it pertained to campaign contributions. However, the judge in his ruling gave the feds room to potentially revive the charges.

The feds’ investigation of Brown’s office also led to perjury charges against former clerk employee Sivasubramani Rajaram and one-time high-ranking clerk official Beena Patel. Rajaram was sentenced in 2017 to three years of probation, and Patel was sentenced in late 2019 to two years in prison.

Prosecutors have accused Patel of derailing the investigation of Brown’s office by lying to a grand jury.

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