Clerk Dorothy Brown’s campaign paid husband $90K
By CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporter June 29, 2014 10:52PM
Dorothy Brown receives a kiss from her husband, Benton Cook, on Election Night in March 2012. | Sun-Times
Updated: August 1, 2014 6:02AM
Before he was paid more than $146,000 for work on Gov. Pat Quinn’s scandal-plagued anti-violence initiative, Benton Cook III says he spent four years as a “media production director” for political candidates.
His biggest client, as it turns out, was his wife, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, records show.
Brown’s campaign fund paid the video production company based at her husband’s then-South Side home nearly $90,000 over a four-year period ending in 2010, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. The business, Gideon Video Productions, doesn’t appear to have been licensed with the state of Illinois, the city of Chicago or Cook County.
Cook doesn’t refer to Gideon by name on the resume he submitted to get hired as an administrator for Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, the $54.5 million anti-violence program now under investigation by federal and Cook County prosecutors.
But besides Brown’s campaign sending checks for video production work to Cook’s then-home address, the online job-networking site LinkedIn lists “Benton Cook” from the “Greater Chicago Area” as president of “Gideon Productions.”
Cook repeatedly refers to his television production background on his resume, saying he “was responsible for the video and photographic production for political candidates and organizations for the 2006, 2008 and 2010 General Elections” and “produced/wrote and directed television and radio commercials, along with in-house events and fund-raisers.”
According to state elections records, though, Gideon Video Productions’ only client was Brown.
The clerk’s campaign fund made 48 payments totaling $89,370 to Gideon Video between August 2006 and October 2010. Brown and Cook got married in September 2009.
Cook himself was paid another $5,500 by a handful of judicial candidates in 2007 and 2008, mostly for distributing campaign literature.
Asked about the work Gideon Video Productions did for Brown’s campaign and whether it had a business license or paid taxes, Cook’s lawyer, Edward M. Genson, had no comment.
Jalyne Strong-Straw, a spokeswoman for Brown, also declined to comment.
A former mayoral candidate, Brown came under fire from her 2012 election opponent, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), for accepting campaign contributions from employees of her county office. Now in her fourth term, she’s told her staff she no longer will accept political contributions from them.
Cook became a lightning rod for criticism of Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative following Chicago Sun-Times reports that he was hired to help supervise $2.1 million in anti-violence grants despite having a felony conviction for writing bad checks. Cook didn’t work directly for the state, but for a not-for-profit group that paid him $146,401 in salary and benefits over 22 months out of the state anti-violence funds.
Quinn, a Democrat, has said he had no idea until recently that Cook — whose wife also is a Democrat — had been hired for that job.
Republicans have blasted the since-disbanded Neighborhood Recovery Initiative as a “political slush fund” Quinn used to get out the vote in Cook County neighborhoods as the 2010 gubernatorial election approached.
Illinois Auditor General William Holland put out a scathing report about the program in February and has said it had little, if any, effect on curbing street violence.
Separately, state regulators filed a complaint against Cook last month accusing him of misrepresenting himself as a licensed clinical psychotherapist and offering psychotherapy services on a website. Cook is fighting that complaint, saying he never offered such services.
On his resume, “Benton Cook III PH.D” says he did “doctoral studies in clinical psychology” at the Jacksonville Theological Seminary and was a “professor of psychology” there between May 1999 and May 2004. He also says he has a “masters of humanities in psychological counseling” and a bachelor’s degree in “religion and biblical studies” from Aspen Theological Seminary.
Cook offers more details about his TV production background, saying he worked for affiliates of ABC and NBC for years in Los Angeles and Denver.
“I worked for ABC . . . at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games,” he writes. “In the fall of 1984, I was hired at the Denver local owner-operated NBC station, where I worked as engineer, director/technical director for Denver Bronco football and Denver Nugget basketball, along with several national and international sporting events.”
He also says he’s produced and directed religious programs and “several current and past TV series,” including “Coloreds in the Confederacy,” which he describes as a “docu-drama which explains the participation of black troops in the Confederate army.”