Tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for a Chicago anti-violence program launched by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010 was paid to the husband of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, causing at least one top Republican to call it "pure cronyism."
Benton Cook received $146,401 in salary and fringe benefits from state grants for his work with the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative in the city's West Garfield Park neighborhood, according to public records reviewed by the
The neighborhood received $2.1 million over two years from the effort, which was championed by the governor after Chicago ministers asked him to declare a "state of emergency" on city violence. He announced it in October 2010, leading critics to argue it was a program to solidify the city's vote just a month before he won election by a razor-thin margin.
Cook told the newspaper that he worked for the program, but didn't receive that much money.
"It wasn't nearly $145,000," Cook said. "Check your records."
The newspaper said Cook was coordinator with the Chicago Area Project, which doled out the money in the neighborhood. It reported he'd signed one set of documents detailing the $67,526 in salary and fringe benefits he'd earned in 2011. A similar 2012 report listing $78,875 in salary and fringe benefits didn't have Cook's signature.
A review of the entire $55 million program released in late February by state Auditor General William Holland questioned 40 percent of the expenditures claimed by service providers.
The program aimed to reduce violence in two dozen Chicago neighborhoods through jobs for young people, parenting skills, school counseling and help for people getting out of prison.
But the now-defunct Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, which created the project at Quinn's behest, couldn't produce the criteria it used to choose the targeted communities and failed to include seven neighborhoods that Chicago police consider to be the most crime-ridden, the audit found. It also relied on Chicago aldermen — not an open bidding process — to find community organizations to run the programs.
The Illinois Violence Prevention Authority was folded into the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority in January 2013, and officials say the problems have since been resolved.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, has called for a federal investigation into the program.
"It's pure cronyism. I think it's what people suspected was going on," she said. "Almost $150,000 to the spouse of a countywide elected official from the governor of the same party, that's outrageous."
A spokeswoman for Brown said the payments to her husband have "nothing to do with the clerk's office."