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Cook County patronage worker's phone records released
Documents show up to 18 calls a day between phones of Tony Cole and Donna Dunnings, Todd Stroger's cousin

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Records released Tuesday by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's office show that up to 18 calls a day were made between the government cell phone of a patronage worker and the personal cell phone of Stroger's cousin, the county's former chief financial officer.

Stroger dumped both his cousin, Donna Dunnings, and Tony Cole, a former steakhouse busboy with a criminal record, amid the burgeoning scandal in April. Stroger at the time said only that he feared Cole, who worked briefly as Dunnings' personal assistant, would make "explosive" allegations about her.

The county phone records suggest regular communication between Cole and Dunnings, both of whom have denied a personal relationship. The hundreds of calls documented include a 46-minute phone call that began at 3:30 a.m. Christmas Day, as well as six phone calls on New Year's Eve and Day.

Dunnings did not return phone calls seeking comment, and an attempt to reach Cole via e-mail failed.

The county cell phone records of Stroger, Dunnings, Cole and Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins were released to the Better Government Association after it filed a lawsuit challenging the county's denial of a Freedom of Information Act request for the records. Andy Shaw, the association's executive director, said the "phone calls in the middle of the night between Dunnings and Cole" and the sheer volume of Cole's phone usage stood out. The county also denied the Tribune's April Freedom of Information Act requests for the same information and additional records related to Dunnings and Cole.

Stroger personally hired Cole in October 2008, and Cole quickly was promoted to a $61,000-a-year job. Stroger said he hired Cole, a onetime college basketball star with a long rap sheet and short résumé, to give him a chance at success.

The records released to the Better Government Association show that Cole's county BlackBerry device racked up bills of $113 to $586 a month and that more than one hundred calls were made between his cell phone and Dunnings' personal cell phone between Dec. 4 and April 9 -- the day Cole was fired.

The records show more than a dozen calls between Cole's and Dunnings' phones on the day he was fired. A week later, Stroger asked for and received Dunnings' resignation.

Tribune reporter Dan P. Blake contributed to this report. hdardick@tribune.com


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