A former top deputy to Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown on Thursday pleaded not guilty to charges alleging she lied to federal investigators in a long-running probe of Brown’s office.
Beena Patel, 55, was released on $5,000 bond after a brief hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve. Patel is charged with three counts of lying in front of a grand jury that has been investigating allegations that Brown solicited campaign donations from her staff and traded promotions for cash.
Patel’s lawyer, Walter Jones, said Patel intends to fight the charges.
“We expect to go through a trial and let a jury decide what we believe to be the truth,” Jones said outside the courtroom. Asked if Patel, who retired from Brown’s office last year, was would try to cut a plea deal with prosecutors, Jones said, “that is not our expectation.”
Prosecutors claim Patel lied under oath about selling tickets for Brown fundraisers to other employees and for helping another employee get a raise based on a family member’s contribution to Brown’s campaign fund.
The U.S. Attorney’s office last week announced the federal indictment. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Brown has not been accused of any wrongdoing by federal prosecutors, though the FBI seized her cellphone in 2015.
Patel allegedly lied about knowing whether a high-ranking employee in Brown’s office had talked to law enforcement, lied about whether she sold tickets to fundraisers to employees of the clerk’s office and lied about whether she knew that other employees of the clerk’s office sold tickets to and collected money from employees for Brown’s fundraisers.
“Have you ever asked any of the employees who work for you if they wanted to buy tickets to any of these events?” Patel was asked while testifying before the grand jury. She answered, “No.”
She told authorities employees got tickets through a website or at meetings and denied having collected money or handing out tickets.
One count alleges Patel asked Brown’s chief of staff to help another employee obtain a promotion because that employee’s brother had donated money to Brown’s campaign fund.
When asked whether she told the chief of staff that the employee should be promoted because her brother had “done a lot” for the clerk’s office, Patel said, “No, I would never do that.” The indictment alleges she knew about the “merit raise” and that she told the employee to “keep mum” and “act surprised” when told about the raise.
Patel’s brother is Narendra Patel, a suburban businessman who is now dead but had run a medical testing lab, Medstar Laboratory. In all, Narendra Patel donated more than $85,000 to Brown over 10 years, according to a Better Government Association investigation. Medstar workers had also donated another $15,000 to Brown, records indicate.
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There have also been questions about whether Brown crossed an ethical line amid revelations that her husband was given a commercial building by Narendra Patel in 2011. Brown’s consulting business ended up on the title a few months later and then sold the structure in 2012 for $100,000, the Better Government Association and Fox 32 investigation found. At the time, Narendra Patel’s lawyer said his client tried to sell the structure on the market and having no luck gave it to Brown’s husband so he would be able to stop paying upkeep, taxes and liability on the property.
The 2011 and 2012 transactions weren’t revealed on Brown’s campaign reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections or on her statement of economic interest on file with the county.
Brown spokeswoman Jalyne Strong recently said Beena Patel hasn’t been employed with the clerk’s office since Aug. 31, 2016. But the office in a statement called her a “person of honesty and integrity.”
“Mrs. Beena Patel was a longtime, excellent employee of the Clerk’s Office,” Strong said in a statement.
Another Brown employee, Sivasubramani Rajaram, was sentenced in February to three years probation after admitting he lied twice to the FBI and bought his job in Brown’s office with a $15,000 “loan” to a company controlled by Brown’s husband.