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United States v. Patel

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 31, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
BEENA PATEL

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         As part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of job and promotion buying in the office of the Clerk of Cook County Circuit Court (the “Clerk's Office”), the Government obtained a search warrant (the “Search Warrant”) to search Defendant Beena Patel's (“Beena”) cell phone. Beena now moves to quash the Search Warrant and to suppress the fruits of the search of her cell phone arguing that the Search Warrant was not supported by probable cause and that it was so deficient that the good-faith exception in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 919-23, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 82 L.Ed.2d 677 (1984) cannot save it. Because the affidavit established probable cause to believe that Beena's cell phone contained evidence of a crime, specifically evidence of perjury and job and promotion buying, the Court denies the motion to quash the search warrant. Additionally, the Court finds that even if the affidavit were deficient, law enforcement's good-faith reliance on the warrant was reasonable, and thus the Leon exception to the suppression rule also applies.

         Separately, Beena asks to Court to order the Government to turn over “any and all representations that the Government made to the grand jury concerning materiality” of her alleged false statements to the grand jury. Doc. 28 at 2. Because grand jury testimony is secret and Beena has not shown any particularized need for the requested statements, the Court denies her motion for these statements.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 2, 2015, law enforcement obtained a Search Warrant to search Beena's cell phone. In support of its application for the Search Warrant, the Government provided an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Mary Harris. The affidavit described in great detail an alleged scheme in which individuals are buying positions and promotions within the Clerk's Office. Beena testified before the grand jury about this scheme on at least two occasions: October 15, 2015, and July 14, 2016. After the issuance of the Search Warrant, the Government searched Beena's phone and discovered evidence that now forms the basis of the present case. On May 4, 2017, a grand jury indicted Beena on three counts of lying during grand jury testimony in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1623(a).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “When an affidavit is the only evidence presented to a judge in support of a search warrant, the validity of the warrant rests solely on the strength of the affidavit.” United States v. McMillian, 786 F.3d 630, 639 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Peck, 317 F.3d 754, 755 (7th Cir. 2003)). An affidavit is sufficient to establish probable cause if, based on the totality of the circumstances, it sets forth sufficient evidence to induce a reasonably prudent person to believe that a search will uncover evidence of a crime. Id.

         ANALYSIS

         I. SEARCH WARRANT

         Beena argues that the affidavit in support of the application for a search warrant of her cell phone did not establish probable cause. “A search warrant affidavit establishes probable cause when it sets forth facts sufficient to induce a reasonably prudent person to believe that a search thereof will uncover evidence of a crime.” United States v. Gregory, 795 F.3d 735, 741 (7th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). “In deciding whether a search warrant is supported by probable cause, courts must use the flexible totality-of-the-circumstances standard set forth in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2332, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983).” United States v. McNeese, 901 F.2d 585, 592 (7th Cir. 1990) (overruled on other grounds). The search warrant here sought to search Beena's phone for evidence of perjury by Sivasubramani Rajaram and job or promotion buying in the Clerk's Office.

         A. The Affidavit

         Agent Harris submitted a 38-page affidavit (the “Affidavit”) in support of her application for a search warrant for Beena's phone. At that time, Agent Harris was a six-year veteran of the FBI. Her work includes investigations of public corruption offenses.

         The Affidavit goes into detail about various suspicious financial transactions involving employees of the Clerk's Office, the Clerk, the Clerk's campaign, and a company owned by the Clerk's husband (“Company 1”). In particular, the Affidavit alleges that Rajaram made two loans to Company 1 and that, within weeks of making these loans, the Clerk's Office hired him. The Affidavit asserts that Rajaram made these loans through Beena's brother, [1] Narendra Patel. Concurrently with making these loans and his hiring, Rajaram was in direct, regular telephone contact with the Clerk herself. During his grand jury testimony, Rajaram testified that he had no telephone contact with the Clerk. Around the same time, Rajaram was also in frequent telephone contact with Beena. However, Rajaram also denied telephone contact with Beena during his grand jury testimony.

         Also during his grand jury testimony, Rajaram was asked to whom he spoke about his application to work in the Clerk's Office. In response, Rajaram took out his phone and looked through his contacts. He only identified one person, by her first name only. He did not identify the Clerk or Beena. ...


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