Two Cook County courthouse employees experienced the courtroom from a new perspective yesterday when they appeared as criminal defendants following their arrest on corruption charges for accepting money to â€œtake care ofâ€ a traffic case in the Cook County criminal courts system, according to the Office of Cook County Stateâ€™s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Benjamin Maldonado, 50, and Jamie Baez, 59, both of Chicagoâ€™s North Side, were each charged with one count of Felony Bribery.Â Maldonado is employed as a clerk with the Cook County Circuit Court Clerkâ€™s Office.Â Baez is a former Cook County Deputy Sheriff.Â Both defendants worked at the Daley Center at the time of the alleged scheme which occurred in 2010.Â
The investigation began after authorities developed information about the payments, although there is no evidence that the defendants were able to unduly influence any official court action.Â The investigation was conducted by the Stateâ€™s Attorneyâ€™s Special Prosecutions Bureau with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.Â
Â â€œAny public employee who believes that corruption is a part of their job description had better stand up and take notice,â€ Alvarez said.Â â€œWe will continue to actively investigate these cases and hold public employees responsible for this type of unacceptable and illegal activity.â€
According to prosecutors, Maldonado and Baez engaged in a scheme in which they accepted $2,000 from a man who was seeking legal representation after being charged with driving without a license.Â Â According to prosecutors, the victim and his wife had had previous dealings with Baez and theyÂ contacted him for a legal referral in the case.Â
According to prosecutors, Baez referred the couple to Maldonado and represented that he was an â€œexcellentâ€ attorney who could assist with the traffic court case.Â The victimâ€™s wife then contacted Maldonado, who is not a licensed attorney, and he agreed to help with the case in exchange for $2,000.Â Maldonado met with the couple and indicated that he would appear in court on the manâ€™s behalf and showed them court paperwork related to the traffic case. He boasted that they should consider the case â€œwonâ€ and told the couple he would also use his connections to â€œclear upâ€ the manâ€™s driving record.Â The couple paid Maldonado $1,000 in cash at that first meeting.Â According to prosecutors, Maldonado later met Baez and gave him a cash payment of $500.
When the next court date arrived, the couple met Maldonado in the basement of Daley Center where they paid the remaining $1,000. Maldonado then left and the man went to wait at the courtroom where his case was scheduled to be heard.Â Maldonado never showed up in the courtroom and the man was told he would was going to be sentenced to jail for his offenses. The couple then contacted Maldonado again to express their concerns.Â
Several days later when they spoke again, Maldonado claimed that he had â€œfixed everythingâ€ and that the man would not be required to show up on the next court date.Â
Following Maldonadoâ€™s advice, the man did not attend his next court date. Five days later, a Chicago Police Officer came to the coupleâ€™s home with a warrant for the manâ€™s arrest.Â His wife told the officer that her husband wasnâ€™t home but their attorney had told them he didnâ€™t have to come to court.Â The wife than went to Maldonadoâ€™s workplace to confront him and he filled out additional paperwork that he indicated would â€œtake careâ€ of the manâ€™s arrest warrant.Â
After returning home, the woman received an angry call from Baez telling her not to tell anyone that she had paid them to help with the traffic case. He also told her they were already doing her a favor by only charging her $2,000 and that her complaints would get them in trouble.
The next day, the couple returned to the Daley Center where they met Maldonado and went to a courtroom on the 4th floor. Before entering, Maldonado told the husband to refer to him as his translator and not his attorney.Â He also told him to tell the judge he had missed court because he was visiting his sick mother.Â During the appearance, the witness was granted a continuance date until the next month.
After court Maldonado informed the couple that the trial strategy was to stall the case until the summer when the Cook County Jail would be at full capacity and unable to accept the man for a traffic conviction.
Several weeks later the man was again arrested for driving without a license. When he appeared in bond court he learned that Maldonado had also not â€œfixedâ€ his driving history as promised when his record still showed four prior convictions.
The public is reminded that charging documents contain allegations that are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.