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More job-selling allegations emerge in Dorothy Brown investigation

Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Chicago Sun-Times
by Jon Seidel and Robert Herguth

A number of years ago — before federal authorities began investigating Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown for corruption — she told a reporter she’d heard such persistent rumors about job-selling at her government agency that she took the unusual step of telling her staff at a meeting that it wasn’t true.

But a newly filed court record provides further evidence that it not only was true, a number of people were either involved in the illegal scheme or knew about it — including a high-ranking, previously unnamed official in Brown’s office who was described as a central figure in the pay-to-play dealings.

The filing includes a Dec. 6 letter from federal prosecutors in which they disclose that they “recently obtained additional materials” from Brown’s campaign treasurer and a former campaign finance official — an indication that the federal investigation remains active and centered, at least in part, on Brown, who has not been charged with a crime and has denied doing anything wrong.

It’s a revelation that follows months of relative quiet in regard to the federal investigation of Brown and her office.

So far, authorities have announced criminal charges against just two people in the roughly 4-year-old investigation: A former low-level Circuit Court clerk employee named Sivasubramani Rajaram, who allegedly gave a company owned by Brown and her husband a $15,000 “loan” in exchange for being hired by the public agency that serves as the court system’s bureaucracy; and Beena Patel, a one-time top administrator with Brown who allegedly lied to a grand jury about rampant office politicking.

The new court filing names another high-ranking Circuit Court official, as well as another lower-level worker, but the Chicago Sun-Times is not identifying them because they apparently have not been charged with a crime.

Still, the high-level official was “the main person within the Clerk’s Office who facilitates the purchase of jobs by other Indian employees,” according to the court record.

Reached Tuesday at the suburban courthouse where he works at a six-figure job, the man would only say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I can’t discuss anything with you.”

His household donated more than $2,000 to Brown’s campaign over the past 15 years, state records show.

The lower-level worker “is alleged to have bought a job in the Clerk’s Office” and “paid” the higher-ranking man, according to the new court filing.

The lower-ranking worker’s Circuit Court salary in 2017 was just over $30,000, and he made a $200 donation to Brown’s campaign nearly a decade ago, records show. He didn’t respond to an interview request from a reporter.

Both men apparently testified to a grand jury — a secret panel assembled to consider criminal charges — along with Rajaram ahead of an Oct. 2, 2015, search warrant application filed four days before federal authorities seized Brown’s cell phone.

Brown has not been interviewed by federal authorities, one of her attorneys said Tuesday.

The court record does not say how much money allegedly changed hands or where it ended up, although Patel’s indictment from last year alleges that a worker was promoted after a relative donated to Brown’s campaign.

Patel’s indictment references Brown’s chief of staff, Wasiu Fashina, as a point of contact with Patel to try to secure a promotion, though Fashina was not charged.

A source who did not want to be identified said she has witnessed Fashina at the Daley Center — the Loop courthouse — peddling fundraising tickets to other county employees for a Brown campaign event.

Government workers are not supposed to be involved in political activity on the clock for taxpayers or on county grounds.

Fashina hung up on a reporter and didn’t return subsequent texts and calls.

The new document was filed recently in federal court by Patel’s defense attorneys, who are asking prosecutors to turn over evidence related to the case against their client.

The defense attorneys, Walter Jones and Jonathan Cifonelli, declined to comment after a court hearing in Patel’s case Tuesday morning.

An unredacted copy of the filing, publicly available until at least Monday evening, had been sealed by Tuesday morning.

The new document makes reference to 16 unnamed people with knowledge of the alleged job-purchasing scheme. The feds’ investigation appears focused on that and other potentially illegal political activity at the agency — campaign fundraising while workers were supposed to be on the clock for taxpayers.

However, prosecutors noted in their letter that none of those 16 people had testified before a grand jury.

Cook County’s inspector general launched an investigation into Brown in the wake of news reports in 2013 that raised questions about how she and her husband ended up with a $100,000 piece of property from a campaign fundraiser who was related to Patel and has since died.

That probe led to involvement by county prosecutors as well as federal authorities, with the feds first approaching Rajaram in August 2015. Two months later, they seized Brown’s cell phone — causing turmoil in the clerk’s election and prompting Cook County Democrats to withdraw their endorsement of Brown. She won anyway.

Rajaram and Patel each found themselves in court for lying to a grand jury. Rajaram, who told a judge he lied because he feared retaliation and was “seriously scared of other people,” was sentenced last year to three years probation. Patel’s case remains pending.

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