The feds came calling for Dorothy Brown’s cell phone more than three years ago.
Not much has come of it, though. Not for Brown. Job-selling allegations have swirled around the clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County ever since. Still, she won re-election in 2016 and has yet to face any criminal charges. The same can’t be said for two people who worked in her office who have since been charged with perjury.
This week, federal prosecutors are preparing to put one of those workers, Beena Patel, on trial. Her case has already opened the widest window yet into the probe that led investigators to Brown’s home late in 2015, and Patel’s trial could reveal even more. It begins Tuesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis.
Walter Jones Jr., Patel’s defense attorney, said none of the evidence in the case will put his client anywhere near the bribery allegations that have been central to the years-long investigation of Brown and her office. He also said Patel maintains her innocence.
“The focus of this whole thing has been on bribes or some other thing,” Jones told the Chicago Sun-Times. “My client has not been indicted for that.”
Instead, Patel faces a three-count indictment filed in 2017 that alleges she told multiple lies during two appearances before a federal grand jury, on Oct. 15, 2015, and July 14, 2016. The panel had been looking into the alleged purchasing of jobs and promotions inside Brown’s office, according to the indictment.
Neither Brown nor her husband, Benton Cook III, appear on government witness lists, though Jones has challenged whether prosecutors can admit certain evidence without calling Cook to the stand. Jones has yet to name any potential witnesses.
Like Brown, Cook has not been charged with a crime. Despite a request from the Sun-Times, a Brown spokeswoman offered no comment on the upcoming trial of Patel.
Patel allegedly lied when she claimed not to know if a colleague in the clerk’s office, Sivasubramani Rajaram, had spoken to law enforcement or testified before the grand jury. She is also accused of lying about sales within the clerk’s office of tickets to Brown’s campaign fundraisers, as well as her efforts in 2015 to help another colleague get a promotion through Brown’s chief of staff.
Each perjury count carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Rajaram admitted in 2016 that he lied to the grand jury in October 2015. U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman gave him three years of probation after he said he was “seriously scared of other people.” He didn’t offer specifics.
Prosecutors have also accused Rajaram of landing his job at the clerk’s office by loaning $15,000 to a business tied to Brown and her husband known as Goat Masters. However, Rajaram told the grand jury he actually gave that money to a “well-connected millionaire” and learned only later that the millionaire had given it to Goat Masters, records show.
Meanwhile, an indictment last month also implicated Brown in an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving Pennsylvania businessman Donald Donagher Jr., who has been charged with bribery. But the cases against Rajaram and Patel have done the most to shed light on the investigation that threatened to derail Brown’s career in October 2015.
That’s when it became known the feds had seized her county-issued cell phone.
Prosecutors have since said they actually seized four phones in the fall of 2015. The phones belonged to Brown, Rajaram, Patel and another clerk’s office employee. At the time, prosecutors said, they were looking into allegations that Brown “was hiring and promoting employees within the clerk’s office for money.”
A clerk’s office employee had alleged the “going rate” for a job there was $10,000, prosecutors said. Further, the feds had allegedly been told Brown had a bagman in the office, and a general impression had formed there that “financial benefits to the clerk could result in securing promotions.”
Some witnesses had also offered “dubious or false information” about suspected bribe payments, prosecutors said. Then, on Oct. 1, 2015, Rajaram allegedly lied to the grand jury about communicating with Brown.
The feds asked for a search warrant to search the cell phones the next day.