A federal jury wasted little time Friday in deciding whether a high-ranking former aide of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown was a serial liar, as the feds argued, or a scapegoat, as her defense contended.
She’s a liar, the jury decided.
Less than four hours after the jury began deliberations, Beena Patel was convicted of making false declarations to a grand jury investigating an alleged pay-to-play scheme in Brown’s office.
After the verdict was read, U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis instructed Patel to be truthful in her interviews with probation officers ahead of her November sentencing.
“If I determine that lying is a way of life, the sentence will be much different than if I determine this was a really stupid and awful mistake, but not really who you are,” Ellis told Patel.
Defense attorney Walter Jones Jr. said in the courthouse lobby that he was “disappointed” in the verdict and would appeal, maintaining that Patel was a “scapegoat” for an investigation that hasn’t resulted in charges against Brown.
“In six years of an absolutely failed probe they came up with nothing, so they gotta charge somebody,” Jones said. “If they haven’t been able to get Dorothy in all this time, they’re probably done.”
Earlier in the day, Jones told jurors in his closing argument that when the “mighty government juggernaut” failed — after a six-year investigation — to land the “big tuna” in Brown’s office, they attempted to save face by charging Patel.
“These people failed. This investigation turned into a botched investigation,” Jones said.
Back in 2015, the feds were focused on Brown, investigating allegations of job selling in her office. She has not been charged, but Patel has been on trial this week — charged with lying to a grand jury, on two separate occasions, in connection with that federal probe.
Prosecutors, in their closing argument, focused on the lies and how they hindered the investigation.
“She looked those grand jurors in the eyes and she lied and she lied repeatedly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ankur Srivastava said.
Patel lied when she claimed not to know if a colleague, Sivasubramani Rajaram, had spoken to law enforcement or testified before the grand jury investigating Brown. She also lied about sales within the clerk’s office of tickets to Brown’s campaign fundraiser, as well as her efforts in 2015 to help another colleague, Pinal Patel, get a promotion.
Srivastava told jurors the Patel case isn’t directly about the alleged bribes in Brown’s office but that Patel’s lies significantly impeded that investigation.
Prosecutors pointed to dozens of Patel’s text messages, among other evidence, that show, they say, her talking in detail about selling fundraiser tickets.
But Jones said the failure to charge Brown was “most embarrassing” for the feds. He repeatedly referred to Patel’s alleged lies as “ticky tacky” statements that had no impact on the outcome of the wider corruption probe.
He said Patel found the grand jury experience overwhelming.
“It’s questioning by ambush,” he said. “It would unnerve anybody.”