Jackson Jr. denies involvement in scheme
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Several Chicago-area businessmen may have spoken to Governor Rod Blagojevich about Illinois' vacant Senate seat. The Chicago Tribune reports the men spoke about raising campaign cash to encourage the governor to appoint Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to the job.
The Tribune story put possible names and at least one face on the buyers' side of an alleged plot to sell a seat in the United States Senate. It was also revealed that the businessman brother of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. may have attended an event last weekend where the deal in question was discussed.
When the governor told reporters Monday morning that he would meet that afternoon with Senate candidate Jesse Jackson Jr. he did not reveal that two days earlier Blagojevich attended a fundraiser hosted by Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak. Nayak is also a supporter of Congressman Jackson.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Nayak -- during at least two meetings -- discussed with others raising money for Blagojevich as a way to encourage the governor to appoint Jackson to the US Senate.
"I have been informed that I'm not a target of this investigation. I have committed no wrongdoing," said Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., (D) Chicago.
The congressman also denied having any knowledge of the meeting Saturday or an earlier luncheon on October 31 at the India House restaurant in Schaumburg. Federal agents taped a conversation that same day with the governor allegedly saying, "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (senate candidate 5) a senator."
The congressman's staff acknowledges that Nayak is a supporter and contributor. But Jackson repeated he knew nothing of any plan to raise money to secure his appointment to the Senate.
"The individual that you mention is a decent -- a decent man. I like him very much. But he nor anyone was authorized to have a conversation with the governor on my behalf," said Jackson Jr.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, says even if an offer was made, the government would be less interested in those who made it.
"There could be criminality on both sides of the ledgers. But, as investigators, your first and foremost function is to focus on the public official side, the person who has the power. And that's the governor's side of the ledger," Collins said.
Campaign finance records indicate the 54-year-old Nayak and his wife have donated over $200,000 to Blagojevich and over $20,000 to Jackson. He is the owner of several surgery centers in Chicago. He is also a former business partner of Jonathan Jackson, the congressman's brother, who reportedly also attended the fundraiser last Saturday.
Congressman Jackson said Friday morning that The Tribune story had nothing to do with the postponement until next week of his meeting with federal investigators. He says the US attorney is so backed up with people who want to talk that their getting his statement is not a priority.
local, charles thomas
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