Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown Under Investigation for Shady Land Deal

Brown and her husband are also tangled up in Gov. Quinn's troubled anti-violence program

Nobody would want to trade places with Dorothy Brown last week. Or ever.

A grand jury began investigating a seemingly shady land deal that put thousands into the pockets of Brown, the Cook County circuit court clerk, and her husband, Benton Cook III, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The downward spiral of shadiness began three years ago, when Cook acquired an eyesore of a commercial building in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood with no money down from Naren Patel, CEO of Medstar Laboratory, which is based in the western suburb Hillside. Patel also happens to have donated over $86,000 to Brown's campaign fund.

The plot thickens.

Brown became a co-owner of the building and in 2012, her company -- Sankofa Group LLC -- sold the building to Frankfort-based developer Musa Tadros for $100,000. Tadros then razed it to the ground.

According to the Better Government Assocation, which first reported the deal in November, Tadros had long desired to purchase the building so he could tear it down and create a better view for the shopping center he owns across the street. He repeatedly attempted to buy it from Patel, but was turned down every time.

Patel has said through his lawyer that he gave the property to Cook free of charge because he wanted to get rid of it, having tired of shelling out for taxes and maintenance. He denied using it as a political donation.

Tadros told the Tribune that he testified before a grand jury about the deal earlier this year. He also said he plans to meet with Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard, whose office is operating a separate probe into the transaction.

Meanwhile, Brown and Cook are embroiled in another scandal involving Gov. Pat Quinn's shuttered anti-violence program. Cook allegedly pocketed a six-figure portion of a grant from the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) to the Chicago Area Project, a community organization where he worked from 2011-2012. His involvement with the group is being investigated by the federal government as well as the office of Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

The Sun-Times reported Friday that Brown -- chairman of the agency that distributes the state anti-violence grants -- voted to direct $5 million toward Chicago Area Project while Cook was employed there. This was apparently news to Quinn.

"If that’s the case, it’s unacceptable," Quinn spokesperson Brooke Anderson told the paper. "Potential and actual conflicts of interest should always be disclosed by public officials and their designees. They should recuse themselves from decision-making on any matter involving a member of their family."

Anderson said Quinn's administration was looking into the matter and would "act appropriately to address any conflict-of-interest issues."

Cook's high-profile attorney, Ed Genson, said Friday that his client has become the "fall guy" for the NRI's troubles, arguing: "If there were things that went wrong with regards to that program, neither he nor (Brown) had involvement. He was just a salaried worker who did his job."

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