NEW YORK: Indian American Beena Patel, onetime top aide to Chicago’s Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges she lied in two separate appearances before a federal grand jury about pay-to-play allegations in the clerk’s office.
Patel, a former associate clerk who supervised close to 500 employees, entered her plea in a brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, reported Chicago Tribune.
She was released on her own recognizance and ordered to have no contact with victims or witnesses in the indictment, including Brown, her chief of staff and a clerk’s office employee — identified in the charges as Individual D — who allegedly was promoted after her brother donated to Brown’s campaign.
Patel, 55, who left the clerk’s office in August, was indicted last week on three counts of making false declarations before a grand jury. A conviction carries a maximum of five years in prison.
The indictment unsealed last week sheds new light on the direction of the ongoing federal probe into alleged bribes involving hiring and promotions in Brown’s office. Among the issues under investigation is whether Patel and other employees routinely helped raise money for Brown’s campaign by hitting up co-workers for tickets to fundraisers, according to the charges. Patel also pressed Brown’s chief of staff to promote an employee whose brother had made hefty political donations to Brown, the indictment alleges, reported the Tribune.
In her grand jury testimony in July 2016, Patel denied ever selling the tickets herself or knowing of other employees doing the same, the charges allege. She also denied speaking to Brown’s chief of staff about the 2015 promotion of Individual D.
Patel also said she didn’t recall telling the employee that Brown was going to call her about the raise and that she should “act surprised,” according to a transcript of her testimony.
Brown has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has not been charged. She won a fifth term as clerk last year even though the Cook County Democratic Party had dropped its endorsement of her after the federal investigation was disclosed.
the Chicago sun-Times reported 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.”
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.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported 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.