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Credibility of key witness against Blagojevich questioned

Rajinder Singh Bedi | Sun-Times

Rajinder Singh Bedi | Sun-Times

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:21AM

Federal prosecutors told a judge Thursday they were dropping their argument to boost a connected fundraiser’s prison sentence — a move that came after the defense charged that the “truthfulness” of a prosecution witness was “greatly called into question.”

The ramifications could hold significance because that same witness — Rajinder Bedi — played a major role in another case, the trial of now-imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Bedi testified for the government under a grant of immunity.

Attorneys for Blagojevich said Thursday they plan to review Bedi’s new testimony.

At issue was whether the fundraiser, Raghuveer Nayak, who was charged with a kickback scheme tied to surgical centers he owns, had a separate cash-back scheme involving Bedi.

Nayak’s attorneys maintain that Bedi perjured himself in the sentencing hearing and even said that Bedi had lied to U.S. District Judge Zagel — twice. Zagel oversaw Blagojevich’s trial and retrial.

Nayak is a longtime friend of Jesse Jackson Jr. and his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Nayak was the so-called “emissary” to Jackson Jr. and allegedly offered the Blagojevich camp more than $1 million if Blagojevich appointed Jackson to President Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. A government prosecutor in the Blagojevich case once characterized Bedi’s testimony regarding witnessing a meeting where the $1 million was discussed as going to the heart of the government’s case against Blagojevich. The substance of that part of the testimony, however, was not at issue in the Nayak sentencing.

“We withdrew a request for a one-level enhancement today, based on Nayak’s alleged tax loss,” U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Randall Samborn confirmed.

Nayak has pleaded guilty in the case and faces sentencing on Monday.

Bedi testified at Blagojevich’s trial that Nayak had engaged in a cash-back scheme, whereby Nayak would write him checks for doing no work and Bedi would kick back the cash. Nayak’s lawyers say there was evidence that Bedi did work for Nayak and that no cash flowed back to Nayak from Bedi.

Nayak’s attorney, Thomas K. McQueen, said the prosecution’s reversal in court on Thursday means his client could face a reduced sentence with the loss to the government being calculated at about $23,000, rather than more than $750,000. Federal sentencing guidelines are driven in part by the amount of money that’s lost.

“The government did absolutely the right thing from the standpoint of their obligations to the justice system,” McQueen told the Sun-Times. “Sadly, this investigation and its effect upon Mr. Nayak’s business was driven almost entirely by the assumption that Rajinder Bedi was being truthful with them about this scheme. That truthfulness is greatly called into question. The government has dropped this aspect of their effort to increase Mr. Nayak’s sentence.”

Bedi’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

One of Blagojevich’s lawyers, Shelly Sorosky, said the defense team will review the questions over Bedi’s credibility in the sentencing case that is up before U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman.

“There is great significance if we could show that a witness who testified for the government lied,” at Blagojevich’s trial, Sorosky said. “I don’t know if we could do that, we would have to look into it and see.”

Blagojevich is serving out a 14-year prison sentence in a Colorado federal prison. He has appealed his case and is awaiting a decision by a three-judge appellate panel.

Former federal prosecutor David Weisman said Bedi’s new testimony “creates an uncomfortable situation for the government.” Still he said that Blagojevich’s attorneys would have to jump through multiple procedural and evidentiary complexities “to use any finding in the Nayak sentencing to the former governor’s advantage at this stage of the game.”


Twitter: @natashakorecki

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