A lower-level employee of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has been charged with lying to a federal grand jury “investigating the purchasing of jobs and promotions” in the clerk’s office — including a lie about whether he had spoken to Brown after he was rehired.
Sivasubramani Rajaram, 48, of Glenview, was rehired by Brown after he allegedly loaned $15,000 to Goat Masters Corporation, a company whose president was Brown’s husband, Benton Cook III, according to the indictment. Rajaram was charged with one count of making false declarations before a grand jury, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Brown and Cook have not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing, though the FBI last month seized Brown’s county-issued cellphone as part of the investigation. Shortly after that, the Better Government Association, Chicago Sun-Times and FOX Chicago TV revealed that Goat Masters was listed on federal subpoenas involving the circuit clerk’s office.
Edward M. Genson, a criminal defense attorney who’s been representing Brown and Cook, declined to comment.
“The clerk’s office does not have any information concerning this matter,” said Jalyne Strong-Shaw, Brown’s spokeswoman. “We will look into this situation and handle appropriately within the clerk’s office’s policies.”
Rajaram had worked in the circuit clerk’s office for more than a decade, leaving in 2011, records show. He had been living in India before moving back to the Chicago area in August 2014 and returning to work for Brown the following month, according to the indictment.
He “purportedly loaned $15,000 to Goat Masters” the same month he returned to Chicago, the indictment reads.
According to county records, Rajaram was rehired with a yearly salary of $30,678 on Sept. 8, 2014. In late June, he got a promotion, helping bring his current salary to $41,151.
Rajaram allegedly lied twice under oath when testifying before the grand jury early last month.
He testified that he hadn’t spoken with Brown since after his rehiring. He also testified he’d spoken with a person identified as “Individual B,” a high-ranking employee in Brown’s office, “maybe like three or four times” since moving back from India — but not by phone.
Rajaram, in fact, had spoken with Brown “on or about September 8, 2014,” prosecutors allege. He also had spoken by cellphone with Individual B “dozens of times,” between August 2014 and Oct. 1, 2014, according to the indictment.
In a brief interview with a reporter at his modest Glenview apartment last month, a noticeably ill Rajaram declined to comment when asked about loans or money being traded for jobs or promotions in Brown’s office. He referred questions to an attorney, who also declined to comment.
A higher-ranking employee in Brown’s office also declined to comment when reached last month by phone about the investigation. The employee indicated that he, too, had hired an attorney to represent him. People listed as living at that employee’s address have contributed more than $3,000 to Brown’s campaign.
Cook, Brown’s husband, formed Goat Masters last year. Cook and Brown were listed as directors of the business, which was based at their South Side home.
It’s unclear what Goat Masters does or did. But Brown was involved in another company — this one called Sankofa Group LLC — that appeared to have some connection to the meat industry at one time, records show.
In 2011, a Brown campaign donor gave Cook a triangular parcel in Lawndale, records show. The land was then transferred to Sankofa — which Brown ran out of her home — and sold for $100,000 in 2012. Brown didn’t disclose the transaction on her campaign or ethics filings, prompting the county’s inspector general to begin investigating what transpired and leading to the federal investigation.
The announcement of the indictment against Rajaram came four weeks after Cook County Democratic Party leaders withdrew their endorsement of Brown for the March 15 primary. They instead threw their support to a newly declared candidate, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), a strong supporter of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
During the party’s meeting rescinding the endorsement, Brown dismissed any idea she’d done anything wrong, telling party leaders, “Investigations are started all the time. . . . Many of you probably had investigations related to you.”
Despite losing the endorsement, Brown has vowed to continue to seek a fifth term as clerk. She has until Nov. 29 to collect the 5,365 signatures on nominating petitions to get on the March ballot.
Chris Fusco is a Sun-Times reporter. Robert Herguth and Patrick Rehkamp report for the Better Government Association.