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FBI arrests ex-fund-raiser for Jesse Jackson Jr., key in Blago case

 Raghuveer Nayak — former campaign fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Jesse JacksJr. (D-Ill.) who was also key figure Rod Blagojevich

Raghuveer Nayak — a former campaign fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) who was also a key figure in the Rod Blagojevich scandal, leaves the Dirksen Federal Building Wednesday, June 20, 2012 after a court hearing. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:11AM

Raghuveer Nayak was long the insider who politicos leaned on for his deep pockets.

He once picked up a $7,500 unpaid tab for a Rod Blagojevich fund-raiser, and more notably, paid to fly a “social acquaintance” of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. across the country at Jackson’s request.

Nayak would wine and dine politicians, at times held fund-raisers at his home and for years poured money into numerous politicians’ campaigns, from Barack Obama to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to Gov. Pat Quinn.

At last summer’s Blagojevich retrial, prosecutors had a distinct way to refer to the wealthy businessman: He was “the bribe guy,” who in 2008 allegedly offered millions of dollars to Rod Blagojevich’s brother in exchange for appointing Jackson Jr. (D-Ill) to Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

On Wednesday, Nayak was in handcuffs, arrested by the FBI at his Oak Brook home on charges that he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to doctors so they would refer patients to his surgical centers.

He appeared in court looking a bit disheveled and weary after he was greeted by agents at his home at 7 a.m. U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez ordered Nayak released on a $10 million bond that’s secured by six properties he owns.

For the last several years, Nayak had been the aching thorn in Jackson’s side after Blagojevich was heard on tape saying that Jackson’s emissary — Nayak — offered what Blagojevich believed was a $1.5 million offer in exchange for the Senate seat.

Jackson has repeatedly and vehemently denied he authorized anyone to approach Blagojevich on his behalf. Jackson has not been charged in the probe.

But a Congressional ethics investigation still ongoing into Jackson cited Nayak by name when the panel found “probable cause to believe that Representative Jackson either directed … Raghuveer Nayak to offer to raise money for Governor Blagojevich in exchange for appointing Representative Jackson to the Senate seat … or had knowledge that Nayak would likely make such an offer.”

Ultimately, however, despite having told authorities that it was Jackson who directed him to make an offer to Blagojevich, Nayak’s case, built by the IRS and FBI, does not cite that conduct.

Instead, a federal grand jury indictment laid out 19 counts against Nayak, including filing false income-tax returns and illegally paying doctors to refer patients to outpatient-surgery centers he owns. It appears that authorities relied on information provided in part by Nayak’s longtime friend and witness in the Blagojevich case, former state worker Rajinder Bedi.

Bedi testified in court that he and Nayak engaged in a check-cashing scheme in which Nayak wrote Bedi checks for doing no work, with Bedi then cashing the checks, returning 70 percent of the money to Nayak and keeping the rest. Bedi testified under a grant of immunity that Nayak’s motive was to evade paying higher taxes. Authorities charged on Wednesday that Nayak used the cash he got from Bedi to pay out bribes.

Nayak’s lawyer, Thomas K. McQueen, would not talk to reporters after court.

Nayak’s arrest does not necessarily mean it is a move to get closer to Jackson, say insiders, because Nayak had already divulged details to authorities about their discussions in 2008.

“I don’t think it’s related,” said former federal prosecutor Ronald Safer. “If it were a squeeze, the squeeze takes place outside of the public’s eye.”

The Chicago Sun-Times had reported in 2010 that Nayak — who was a close Jackson family friend and campaign contributor — had told federal authorities Jackson directed him to approach the Blagojevich camp with a $6 million fund-raising offer in exchange for a Senate appointment for Jackson.

He also told authorities he secretly paid to fly a female friend of Jackson to Chicago from Washington, D.C., at Jackson’s request.

Jackson subsequently apologized for his relationship with the woman, whom he described as a “social acquaintance.” But the congressman has denied ever directing anyone to offer Blagojevich money in exchange for the Senate seat.

Nayak — who owns outpatient medical centers in Illinois and Indiana -- has been close to the Jackson political dynasty for years. He once joined a business venture with Jonathan Jackson, one of the congressman’s brothers. He is friendly with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and has traveled to India with him.

Nayak put his wealth behind other candidates as well — including Obama when he first ran for the U.S. Senate.

“Back when he was running for Senate, my dad was fairly involved in his campaign, and at one point I actually had the opportunity to introduce him at a small fund-raiser,” Nayak’s son, Vinay Nayak, told the Pioneer Press in 2007.

Nayak is a national of India who emigrated to the United States in the 1970s. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner said in court that Nayak was once a citizen of India. He has attained U.S. citizenship and along the way built a business empire in the medical field, holding properties in Illinois and Indiana.

Nayak owns the Rogers Park One Day Surgery Center, Inc, Lakeshore Surgery Center LLC as well as Western Touhy Anesthesia, Inc. Illiana Anesthesia, Lincoln Park Open MRI, Delaware Place MRI and Paulina Anesthesia.

Charges say that between 2000 and December 2010 Nayak defrauded patients by paying and arranging to pay bribes and kickbacks in the form of cash and other hidden payments to physicians who would refer their patients to Nayak’s facilities for medical treatment. Nayak is accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to different doctors in exchange for patient referrals. Numerous doctors appeared before the federal grand jury, sources say, to testify against Nayak. The doctors, according to charges, did not disclose to their patients that they were getting paid to make referrals to Nayak’s facilities.

Despite Nayak’s cooperation, authorities say they keyed in on Nayak because he did not reveal the alleged check-cashing scheme to them and they accused him of trying to conceal wrongdoing.

“After he was interviewed in December 2008, Nayak allegedly took additional steps to hide the scheme by executing fraudulent contracts and by warning physicians not to speak with agents about the payments,” a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicated.

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