Illinois fundraiser asks for immunity

Businessman might cooperate in Blagojevich investigation

December 22, 2008|By David Kidwell and John Chase | David Kidwell and John Chase,Chicago Tribune

A key figure in Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's alleged scheme to sell a U.S. Senate seat has sought immunity from federal authorities in return for his cooperation in their investigation.

Raghuveer P. Nayak, an Oak Brook businessman and political fundraiser, is the unnamed "Individual D" who prosecutors say was being squeezed by the governor for campaign cash in return for appointing Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, sources said. Investigators appeared at Nayak's home the morning the FBI arrested Blagojevich, the sources said.

Nayak was among a number of people connected to the case who were contacted by federal agents that day. He has not been accused of wrongdoing and declined to comment.

Nayak, 54, who made his fortune in medical businesses, was until recently little-known outside Chicago's close-knit Indian community and the state's political fundraising circles. But since the governor's arrest Dec. 9, Nayak has emerged as a central figure in a scandal that has shaken the foundations of Illinois politics and thrust the state into a spotlight of national scorn.

The Chicago Tribune has reported that Nayak hosted an Oct. 31 luncheon at which he discussed raising $1 million for Blagojevich to help persuade the governor to choose Jackson. The congressman's brother Jonathan appeared at a Nayak-sponsored fundraiser for the governor three days before Blagojevich was arrested.

The congressman has acknowledged speaking with Nayak about his desire for the Senate seat but said he neither endorsed nor was aware of a fundraising effort to support his bid. Attempts to reach Jackson were unsuccessful yesterday.

Jackson's lawyer, James Montgomery Sr., reacted yesterday to the news of Nayak's bid for immunity by saying, "If that is indeed the case, and if that cooperation relates to my client, then [Nayak] is trying to save his own skin."

Only Blagojevich and his chief of staff are charged in the federal complaint, which alleges that the two-term Democrat put a price on many of his official actions. Federal prosecutors said the case exemplifies the worst excesses of a political system in which public officials raise money from people who want something from their government. It is a system in which those who supply the money are never far from government's most powerful players.

Federal and state election reports show that Nayak, his wife and his businesses have donated more than $779,000 in the past decade and raised hundreds of thousands more for candidates that include the Cook County Circuit Court clerk and Obama. He has contributed primarily to Democrats but also has given money to Republicans.

Nayak has been a notable contributor and fundraiser for three state officials who have been among the governor's harshest critics since the scandal broke: Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

People close to Nayak said he overcame racism and near-poverty to launch successful businesses and become a leader in the state's growing Indian-American community.

Nayak and his business attorney refused to discuss the Blagojevich case. But the attorney, Thomas Conley, said his client is "just a good guy" and an honest businessman who stepped up when "the Indian community recognized that it needed to have its interests heard by politicians."

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