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Audio of grand jury testimony from Dorothy Brown probe played at trial

The Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Dirksen Federal Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn St. File photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Days after federal agents fanned out to collect cell phones from Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and a handful of her workers in October 2015, Beena Patel found herself facing a grand jury at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

In sworn testimony, the longtime clerk’s office employee denied knowing that anyone had purchased jobs or promotions there. She said clerk employees were not pressured to attend Brown’s political fundraisers. And she clearly frustrated the two prosecutors asking the questions.

One finally insisted to Patel, “regardless of when the conversation happened, tell us everything that Dorothy Brown told you” about a $15,000 loan another employee made to Brown’s business, Goat Masters Corp.

Prosecutors played audio recordings Wednesday of Patel’s October 2015 testimony as they continued to put Patel on trial for perjury, giving trial jurors the opportunity to hear Patel’s alleged lies in her own voice.

The recordings offered new insight into an investigation that nearly derailed Brown’s political career in October 2015. News of the feds’ inquiry into job-selling allegations in Brown’s office prompted Cook County Democrats to rescind their endorsement of her in the 2016 clerk’s race. Brown won anyway, and she was never criminally charged.

Instead, Patel and another clerk’s office employee, Sivasubramani Rajaram, wound up facing federal charges for lying to grand jurors investigating Brown’s office. Rajaram pleaded guilty in 2016.

Walter Jones Jr., Patel’s defense attorney, has called her alleged lies “insignificant” and not material to the grand jury’s investigation. He also said they need to be put in context.

Before jurors heard the recordings Wednesday, retired longtime prosecutor and onetime Acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro testified and explained the secretive grand jury process. The 23-member panels hear testimony, consider the credibility of witnesses and decide whether to hand up criminal charges in the form of an indictment, Shapiro said.

When Patel took her turn in front of the grand jury, prosecutors seemed focused on the $15,000 loan from Rajaram to Goat Masters, a business tied to Brown and her husband.

Patel gave shifting and incomplete answers, and the frustrated feds asked her to “fill in the gaps.” Patel explained that Rajaram had been looking for a place to invest his money, and she knew Brown had been looking for business investors.

She said Rajaram had no bank account, so he must have passed along the loan in cash. And she said she learned about the loan because Rajaram had called to tell her about a meeting he had with Brown “at the Corner Bakery outside the Daley Center.”

Crucially, the recordings also contained some of Patel’s alleged lies. One revolved around Rajaram’s contact with federal authorities. When Patel appeared before the grand jury, a prosecutor asked if she knew he’d spoken to law enforcement.

“I don’t know,” Patel replied.

A prosecutor then asked, “to your knowledge, has he testified in the grand jury?”

“I don’t know,” Patel said.

Rajaram had testified before the grand jury Oct. 1, 2015.

Later, a prosecutor brought up Brown’s political fundraisers and asked, “Have you ever asked any of the employees who work for you if they wanted to buy tickets to any of these events?”

“No,” Patel said.

“You’re sure about that?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes,” Patel said.