A key figure in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged scheme to sell a U.S. Senate seat has sought immunity from federal authorities in return for his cooperation in their ongoing probe, the Tribune has learned.
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 U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, sources said.
Investigators appeared at Nayak's Oak Brook 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.
Nayak has not been accused of wrongdoing and declined to comment. It is unclear what information he can provide to authorities, who said they had more work to do after moving quickly to interrupt the governor's alleged scheme.
The 54-year-old millionaire, 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 Dec. 9 arrest, Nayak has emerged as a central figure in a scandal that has shaken the foundation of Illinois politics and thrust the state into a spotlight of national scorn.
The Tribune has reported that Nayak hosted an Oct. 31 luncheon where 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 did not endorse and was not aware of a fundraising effort to support his bid.
On Sunday evening, Jackson's lawyer, James Montgomery Sr., reacted 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. That's all I have to say."
Attempts to reach the congressman were unsuccessful Sunday.
Only Blagojevich and his chief of staff are charged in the federal complaint, which alleges the two-term Democrat put a price on many of his official actions. But federal prosecutors say the case epitomizes 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. And that system wouldn't exist without people like Raghu Nayak.
Federal and state election reports show Nayak, his wife and his businesses for the last decade have donated more than $779,000 and raised hundreds of thousands more for candidates ranging from the Cook County Circuit Court clerk to President-elect Barack Obama. He has contributed primarily to Democrats but has given money to some Republicans as well.
Nayak also has been a notable contributor and fundraiser for three statewide officials who have been among the governor's harshest critics since the scandal broke—Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
People close to Nayak say the Indian emigre overcame racism and near-poverty to launch several successful businesses and become a well-respected leader in the state's growing Indian-American community.
Nayak, whose businesses have needed the approval of state regulators and auditors from various agencies over the years, also is a man long familiar to federal investigators interested in allegations of fraud at his medical clinics, allegations he has vehemently denied. He has never been charged.
Nayak and his longtime 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."
Conley said Nayak enjoys political fundraising.
"He's into it, and it's good to know people like that," Conley said, "but we've raised money for winners and we've raised money for losers."