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Stroger's cousin could pay legal tab of troubled steakhouse busboy turned patronage worker

Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick and David Heinzmann

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s cousin could end up paying the legal tab of the troubled steakhouse busboy at the center of a patronage controversy rocking the administration.

The county public defender’s office, which represents poor criminal defendants, wants off the case of Tony Cole. A top level attorney there said today that Cole can pay for a lawyer by using bond money posted for him by former county Chief Financial Officer Donna Dunnings, Stroger’s cousin.

Last week, Circuit Court Judge James Patrick Murphy appointed the public defender to represent Cole, who is being held in lieu of $200,000 bail at the county jail. Cole allegedly violated the conditions of his home confinement in a domestic violence case.

Although Cole said he had no income or assets, the public defender’s office plans to argue in court this week that $4,000 Dunnings posted to bail him out after earlier arrests can be used to pay attorneys, as often is done in criminal cases. Although the money was posted by Dunnings, it’s considered “an asset of the defendant,” First Assistant Public Defender Patrick Reardon said.

“We’re in an awkward spot,” Reardon said. “We want to represent everybody and give them the benefit of counsel all the time.”

But other criminal defendants routinely use bond money, no matter who posted it, to fund their defense and the office is wary of making Cole an exception.

"We have to be fair,” Reardon said.

Attempts to reach Dunnings for comment were not successful today.

Last October, Stroger hired Cole, a former college basketball star with a short resume and lengthy rap sheet, for an administrative job paying about $48,000 a year. On Feb. 1, Stroger promoted Cole to a $61,000-a-year human relations job after Dunnings twice bailed Cole out of jail for alleged domestic restraining order violations.

On April 9, Stroger fired Cole after media inquiries about Cole’s criminal past, saying he had learned days earlier that Cole had lied about his criminal history—which included convictions for battery, disorderly conduct and writing a bad check—on his job application.

But the Stroger administration received an FBI report indicating Cole had lied on Nov. 20, and Illinois State Police said they mailed their background check on Cole to the county on Dec. 20.

On April 16, Stroger forced the resignation of Dunnings, after media inquiries about Dunnings bailing Cole out of jail.
The whole chain of events has prompted investigations by the county inspector general, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

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