Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown flips free property for $100K - KMSP-TV

Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown flips free property for $100K

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News & Better Government Assoc.) -

How would you like to have a piece of property handed to you for free and then turn around and sell it for $100,000? Sound too good to be true? Not if you're one of Cook County's most powerful Democratic politicians.

FOX 32 and the Better Government Association have uncovered a complex series of property transactions involving Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown that's raising some tough questions for the veteran politician.

What makes all of this even more curious is that the property was handed over for free by one of Clerk Brown's top campaign contributors, who has family working in the clerk's office.

We would love to know how and why Dorothy Brown landed this sweetheart deal. But for now, she's not talking. Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown bolted through a crowd of lawyers, judges and politicians at a recent alumni gathering for Kent College of Law. Brown literally raced into the ladies' room to avoid talking about a small, triangular piece of property located at the intersection of Pulaski, Ogden and Cermak on Chicago's South Side.

Until recently, there was an office building on the site. Records obtained by FOX 32 and the Better Government Association show that in June of 2011, the owner of that property, wealthy businessman Narendra Patel, gave it away for free to Benton Cook III. Cook is Dorothy Brown's husband.

"It's our personal business. It has nothing to do with politics," Cook says. "It has nothing to do with the public."

According to records, one month after getting the free property, Cook added Dorothy Brown's name to the deed.

Two months after that, Brown and her husband transferred the deed to Sankofa, LLC. -- a for-profit company they run out of their South Side home.

Finally, in November 2012, Sankofa sold the property to a private developer for an even $100,000.

When asked how much money was made on that transaction, Cook deflected with: "This is between me and my wife. It's personal, man."

Emily Miller of the Better Government Association says Brown may have violated state law by failing to disclose any of this on her Cook County statement of economic interest, which, among other things, requires elected officials to report any gifts over $500 in value.

"This transaction raises a lot of questions and I think she needs to answer those questions," Miller says. "The Statement of Economic Interest is the only way that the public has access to information about potential conflicts of interest of public officials. It's really important that public officials fill those forms out accurately."

The conflict of interest here may lie in Brown's political connections to the man who gave her the property. Narendra Patel owns Medstar Laboratory, a medical services company in the western suburbs. Since 2004, Medstar has donated nearly $52,000 to Dorothy Brown's campaign fund.

Patel has also personally given $33,000 to Brown's political campaign. Brown has appeared at Medstar company functions and even traveled to India with Patel in 2011.

Patel's cousin is also a top manager in Brown's office, making $110,000 a year, although she was hired before Brown became clerk.

Patel's lawyer, Robert Orman, says Patel gave the property to Brown and her husband for free because it was in disrepair and he had trouble renting it or finding a buyer: "it was a headache. He was just glad to be rid of it." Orman says.

But, the developer who paid Brown's company $100,000 for the property and later tore the building down, told FOX 32 he had been trying to buy it from Patel for years so that he could increase the visibility of a shopping plaza he owns across the street.

"Definitely this transaction raises questions," says Miller. "And while we're not accusing her of committing any crime, it definitely raises questions that could lead or should lead to further inquiry."

Moments after brown dodged our questions by running into the restroom, her husband did the same.

Naren Patel's attorney says Patel can't remember exactly how or where he and Benton Cook began the conversation that led to Patel giving Cook the property. But, the attorney says Patel got nothing in return for the freebie.

Cook County Inspector General Pat Blanchard is aware of the deal, but wouldn't say whether he's launched an investigation.

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