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State cites Brown's spouse for allegedly misrepresenting himself

SPRINGFIELD — State regulators have filed a complaint against the husband of Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown, alleging that Dr. Benton Cook III misrepresented himself as a licensed clinical psychotherapist.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation cited Cook in a May 12 complaint after learning that he purported to offer psychotherapy services on his website.

“We opened the investigation after reading about his ‘profession’ in the Sun-Times early last week,” Susan Hofer, a spokesman for the state agency, said Wednesday.

The complaint against Cook cites his website’s claims that he “offers a compassionate therapeutic approach that includes recognized and accepted psychotherapies, training for behavioral changes, as well as existential psychotherapy.”

The complaint also quoted Cook’s claim, on his website, that “he is eager to apply his experience and compassion with clients as they begin to address issues that will help them to improve their quality of life and attain a sense of fulfillment.”

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Hofer said there is no record in Illinois that Cook ever was a licensed clinical psychologist.

The allegation represents a new blow to Cook and his wife, who have been at the center of a pair of state and federal investigations into their alleged land dealings and involvement in Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

Cook was hired by the social service provider, Chicago Area Project, to serve as its West Garfield Park program coordinator for Quinn’s now-disbanded 2010 anti-violence program – a post that resulted in Cook being paid more than $146,000 in salary and benefits from Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grant funds, state records show.

In that position, Cook oversaw millions of dollars in anti-violence programs that were funded by the governor’s initiative, including a non-profit he formed and that state records show involved his wife in a direct managerial role with the enterprise.

That non-profit, Dream Catchers Community Development Corporation, was to have gotten $10,000 in state grant money under Quinn’s program, but its deal with Chicago Area Project was stopped after the organization received $3,300 in funding. Cook’s non-profit paid back more than $1,700 to Chicago Area Project in unexpended grant funds but was allowed to keep more than $1,500 in Neighborhood Recovery Initiative dollars.

If Cook is found to have improperly billed himself as a state-licensed psychotherapist, he could face a fine of up to $10,000 for each offense, Hofer said.

Cook’s lawyer, Edward Genson, denied his client ever claimed to offer psychotherapy services in the Chicago area.

“He was a licensed clinical psychologist, I believe, in Tennessee, where he used to live,” Genson said. “He never claimed to be one in Chicago and has never practiced clinical psychology in Chicago.”

The head of Chicago Area Project said he was “extremely distressed” to learn of the state complaint against the organization’s one-time employee.

“Although the clinical psychology credential presented by Mr. Cook both in his resume and during job interviews were not relevant to his position as project coordinator, we are nonetheless extremely distressed to learn that any portion of his credentials may have been fabricated,” David E. Whittaker, the group’s executive director, said in a prepared statement.

“You can be assured that we have learned something, and our future employee screening process will be far more stringent,” Whittaker said.