More insights into federal probe as trial of Dorothy Brown worker nears end

SHARE More insights into federal probe as trial of Dorothy Brown worker nears end

Dirksen Federal Courthouse. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A case that offered new insight into the federal investigation of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office should soon be in the hands of a jury following closing arguments, which are expected Friday.

The perjury trial of Beena Patel continued Thursday to reveal new details about the probe, which has yielded no criminal charges against Brown five years after it began. Still, it threatened to derail Brown’s political career in October 2015.

Instead, Patel and a fellow colleague at the clerk’s office, Sivasubramani Rajaram, were charged in separate cases with lying to a federal grand jury. Prosecutors rested their case Thursday against Patel after calling to the witness stand the head of the FBI’s public corruption squad in Chicago and two clerk’s office workers.

They also played more recordings of Patel’s testimony before the grand jury.

Though the case is focused on the lies Patel allegedly told to the grand jury, the trial jurors have heard much about Brown and the federal investigation of her office. Prosecutors even displayed a photograph of Brown in the courtroom Wednesday.

Patel’s lawyers have argued her alleged lies were insignificant and did not affect the investigation.

On Thursday, high-ranking clerk’s office employees Janet Hunter and Joyce Martinez took the stand. Each described a process within the office for the sale of tickets to Brown’s political fundraisers, including fashion shows and birthday/anniversary celebrations.

Hunter, who oversaw other managers in the office, said she would learn from her supervisor when tickets to the events were available. She said she would then reach out to the managers she oversaw to see if they were interested in purchasing them.

Hunter said Patel once worked as her supervisor. She said Patel asked her to purchase tickets and collected the proceeds from tickets that Hunter sold.

Patel is accused of lying to the grand jury about the sale of those tickets within Brown’s office, among other things.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brendan O’Leary, who oversees the agency’s public corruption squad in Chicago, later took the stand. He said the FBI’s investigation of an alleged “pay-to-play operation” in Brown’s office began in spring 2014. He said it heated up when the feds learned that Rajaram had loaned $15,000 to Brown’s business, Goat Masters Corporation, shortly before landing a job in her office.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Walter Jones Jr. challenged O’Leary by asking about that investigation, “you have not indicted a single person for pay-to-play, have you?” That prompted a long sidebar discussion between the lawyers and the judge. When that sidebar ended, Jones moved on with his questioning.

A Pennsylvania businessman, Donald Donagher Jr., has been indicted for an alleged pay-to-play scheme that implicates Brown, though Brown faces no charges in that case, either.

Finally, jurors in Patel’s trial Thursday heard a recording of Patel’s July 14, 2016, testimony before the secretive grand jury panel tasked with deciding whether to level criminal charges. Patel’s testimony that day began with an odd anecdote about an envelope she received that very morning.

She said it contained a smaller envelope with Rajaram’s name written on it.

Patel said she recognized the handwriting on the envelope as Brown’s. She also explained that, the previous month, Rajaram’s daughter had shown up at the Daley Center looking for her father’s loan repayment from Brown.

Though prosecutors said they never opened the smaller envelope before the grand jury, attorneys told U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis on Thursday the envelope contained interest payments on the loan in the form of two checks, as well as a payment schedule.

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