'Going rate' to buy a job in Dorothy Brown's office? $10,000, employee tells feds
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
by Jason Meisner
One employee told federal investigators that the “going rate” to a buy a job in Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office was $10,000, to be paid to her personal bagman.
Another said in an FBI interview it was well known that showering gifts on Brown could earn you a promotion, citing a trip Brown took to India that was partially paid for by relatives of one of her top employees.
Financial records appeared to back up the claims, including transactions showing the alleged bagman — who is also a clerk’s office employee — paid $40,000 directly to Brown and a company she controlled. The clerk later deposited $30,000 of those funds into her campaign war chest.
Those allegations are among several startling new details revealed by federal prosecutors in a court filing in the pending case against Beena Patel, one of Brown’s former aides whose relative helped fund the India trip in 2013.
The filing shows in the greatest detail yet the scope of the grand jury probe into pay-to-play allegations of corruption in Brown’s sprawling office, which prosecutors said remains an active criminal investigation.
Brown has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has not been charged despite an investigation that has been underway for nearly five years.
She won a fifth term as clerk in 2016 even though the Cook County Democratic Party had dropped its endorsement of her after the federal investigation was disclosed.
The new filing by prosecutors came as lawyers for Patel are asking a federal judge to throw out evidence seized from her cellphone in 2015 because of alleged deficiencies in the search warrants obtained by the FBI.
Patel, a former associate clerk who at one point supervised close to 500 office employees, has pleaded not guilty to charges she lied on two separate occasions to a federal grand jury investigating corruption in Brown’s office.
Another employee, Sivasubramani Rajaram, was convicted in 2016 of falsely testifying to the grand jury that he had not talked with Brown after his 2014 hiring. Prosecutors alleged that to secure the job, Rajaram had paid a $15,000 bribe to Brown disguised as a loan to Goat Masters Corp., a goat meat supply company that Brown and her husband had recently founded. Rajaram was sentenced last year to probation.
In their 16-page response Tuesday, prosecutors wrote that they presented plenty of evidence to justify the search warrants, including interviews with current and former employees as well as records showing loans and other financial dealings between Brown and people who worked for her, including Patel and Rajaram.
The filing said that at the time the search warrants were executed in 2015, the alleged bagman — referred to only as Employee One — had paid a total of $30,000 “in recent years” to Brown’s personal accounts and another $10,000 to Goat Masters. Brown later loaned the $30,000 directly to her campaign fund.
When law enforcement approached Employee One about the payments in September 2014, he refused to speak to agents, according to the filing. Cellphone records showed the employee immediately called Brown and several co-workers after the encounter.
After giving Employee One a letter of immunity from prosecution, he testified before the grand jury, denying the payments were bribes, prosecutors said.
He characterized them as business loans that he had agreed to give to Brown and her husband because “she is a nice candidate,” according to the filing.
Patel, 55, who left the clerk's office in August 2016, was indicted on three counts of making false declarations before a grand jury. According to the charges, Patel and other employees routinely helped raise money for Brown's campaign by hitting up co-workers for tickets to fundraisers. Patel also pressed Brown's chief of staff to promote an employee whose brother had made hefty political donations to Brown, the indictment alleged.
The Tribune has reported that Brown first came under investigation after the sale of a North Lawndale building owned by Patel's brother, Narendra, a west suburban businessman and longtime campaign donor to Brown who is now deceased.
Narendra Patel 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, Brown's husband put the property in the couple's name. Later, they transferred it to the Sankofa Group LLC, a for-profit company Brown had set up years earlier out of her Chicago home.
The couple then sold the rundown building for $100,000 to developer Musa Tadros, county documents show. Over the years, Narendra Patel and his company, Medstar Laboratory Inc., contributed more than $86,000 to Brown's campaign, state records show.