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FBI seizes Dorothy Brown's cellphone in probe of land deal

Thursday, October 15, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Jason Meisner and Hal Dardick

The FBI has seized the cellphone of Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown as part of an ongoing investigation into a 2011 land deal involving a longtime campaign contributor that netted Brown and her husband tens of thousands of dollars.

Agents showed up at Brown's home last week armed with a search warrant for her phone, said attorney Edward Genson, who is representing Brown in the criminal investigation. Genson said he had "no idea" why the FBI wanted the phone.

"They are very close-mouthed about their investigations," he said.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. The chief lawyer for Brown's office denied a Tribune request for any federal subpoenas served on Brown or her office, citing an exemption in state open records laws, and Brown's chief spokeswoman declined further comment.

Sources told the Tribune that federal authorities have joined an investigation initially launched by the Cook County state's attorney's office into the sale of a North Lawndale building owned by Narendra Patel, a longtime campaign donor to Brown and a west suburban businessman.

Patel, who is now deceased, gave the 2,275-square-foot, triangle-shaped property on South Pulaski Road to Brown's husband, Benton Cook III, at no cost in June 2011, records show. Within months, Cook put the property in the couple's name. Later, they transferred it to the Sankofa Group, a for-profit company Brown had set up years earlier.

The couple then sold the run-down building for $100,000 to developer Musa Tadros, county documents show.

Neither Brown nor her husband has been charged with wrongdoing.

Patel was no stranger to Brown. Over the years, he and his company, Medstar Laboratory Inc., contributed more than $86,000 to Brown's campaign, state records show.

Patel's sister, Beena Patel, works as an administrator at the circuit clerk's office in the Rolling Meadows courthouse. State records show that she gave nearly $2,700 to Brown's campaign fund from 2003 to 2008.

Her attorney, Robert Orman, declined to say Thursday if Beena Patel had been contacted as part of the probe, saying, "I really don't want to comment on grand jury proceedings."

Tadros, the owner of south suburban Frankfort-based Crown Commercial Real Estate and Development, told the Tribune last year that he testified before a Cook County grand jury earlier last year about the land deal.

Tadros said he had tried for years to buy the property from Patel, only to be rebuffed. Tadros, who owned a nearby shopping center, said he wanted to raze the building because it was an eyesore.

Tadros said he finally worked out a deal to buy the building after Cook approached him about renting parking spaces at Tadros' shopping center.

The building has since been torn down, and the parcel is a vacant lot.

Reached by telephone Thursday, Tadros said he has not been questioned by federal investigators.

jmeisner@tribpub.com



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