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Raghuveer Nayak was ‘always welcome in the Jackson home’

PhoJesse JacksJr Raghuveer Nayak

Photo of Jesse Jackson Jr and Raghuveer Nayak

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:39AM

Raghuveer Nayak, the Oak Brook businessman arrested Wednesday on charges he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to doctors and then wrote them off on his taxes as advertising, “was always welcome in the Jackson home.”

Don’t take my word for it.

That comes straight out of an interview Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. gave three years ago to House Ethics Committee investigators looking into whether he tried to buy the U.S. Senate seat that Rod Blagojevich was convicted of trying to sell him.

The close relationship between Nayak and the Jackson family has been well-documented in the years since Blagojevich’s own surprise arrest, but it’s worth reviewing in light of Nayak’s indictment on what appear to be unrelated matters (although perhaps not entirely unrelated.)

Like Tony Rezko, Nayak is another one of those guys who always turns up at that ugly intersect between money and politics, and like Rezko and Blagojevich, was regarded as more than just another campaign fund-raiser for the congressman. Jackson Jr. called him a friend.

While it’s not completely clear as to whether the congressman’s “welcome” comment referred to his own home or that of his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, both enjoyed close relationships with Nayak, as did the congressman’s brother, Jonathan.

Nayak was probably less welcome in the congressman’s home after word later got out that he was the one who had paid to fly Jackson’s “social acquaintance” — Washington, D.C., restaurant hostess Giovana Huidobro — to Chicago for at least two visits where we can assume they got better socially acquainted.

That’s a friend indeed, which may be why Jackson doesn’t seem to have volunteered that information during his 2009 interview with ethics investigators.

The congressman did tell investigators he had known Nayak since the 1990s and that — prior to Blagojevich’s arrest — they spoke several times a week, “typically making small talk.”

It was Nayak, as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, who was among the first to congratulate Jackson for his convention speech, the congressman said. Nayak kept calling him “senator” — which Jackson credits with helping plant the seed that he should seek Barack Obama’s seat.

Jackson’s father counted Nayak as a financial supporter of his Rainbow PUSH Coalition. According to the congressman, Nayak in 2007 also organized a trip to India for Rev. Jackson and his wife — and accompanied them.

The congressman also told the Ethics Committee that Nayak socialized with Jonathan Jackson, who told investigators he had worked with Nayak on a development deal involving a South Side bank.

On the day of Blagojevich’s arrest, the congressman has even said he and his father held a conference call with Nayak to ask if he was one of the unnamed individuals accusing Blagojevich of trying to sell the Senate seat. Rev. Jackson suspected he was. Nayak said he was not.

Later though, Nayak agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors against Jackson and Blagojevich, accusing the congressman of directing him to offer the then-governor millions in campaign donations for the appointment.

Jackson has steadfastly denied those accusations and has never been charged with a crime. The House Ethics case remains open.

Nayak, meanwhile, has never made it to the witness stand, presumably because he failed to disclose the criminal behavior at the heart of Wednesday’s arrest, undercutting his credibility.

Until now Nayak was one of the loose ends of Patrick Fitzgerald’s run as U.S. attorney, which ends a week from Friday. Fitzgerald has never struck me as the kind of guy who likes loose ends.

Some will wonder if Jackson is another loose end, and I can only say that if the feds thought they had a case they could prove, they would have brought it by now.

Charging Nayak at this time would not seem to bring the matter any closer to the congressman’s doorstep, not to suggest this is the end of the line.

I take particular note of one aspect of the Nayak charges — involving an accusation he laundered $2 million in checks from his surgi-center business through an Individual A, believed to be fellow Indian businessman Rajinder Bedi, in return for cash.

The indictment suggests Nayak used some if not most of that cash to pay his bribes and kickbacks to physicians, but leaves open the possibility the docs didn’t get all the money.

It gets a person to thinking about a guy who likes to pay cash bribes and who also has many friends in politics. A guy like that could be welcome in a lot of homes.

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