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posted: 7/4/2010 12:01 AM

Suburbanites played role in Blagojevich case all along

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  • Raghu Nayak of Oak Brook

    Raghu Nayak of Oak Brook


Days before the 2008 election, with speculation rampant about who would replace Barack Obama in the Senate if he were elected president, Rod Blagojevich attended a luncheon fundraiser at the India House restaurant in Schaumburg.

According to opening statements in his corruption trial, that would lead to two members of an Indian-American steering committee, Raghuveer Nayak of Oak Brook and Chicago's Babu Patel, extending an offer to Rod's brother, Robert, to raise $1 million for Blagojevich in exchange for him naming U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the seat.

That's according to Michael Ettinger, Robert Blagojevich's attorney, who said his client rejected those overtures.

While it's unclear if any of these men will testify for the prosecution - there's no set witness list and none of them has been charged with any crime, Ettinger made it clear they'll definitely be involved in his defense.

Most of Rod Blagojevich's wheeling and dealing took place at the governor's offices or his home in Chicago, but the tentacles reached into the suburbs and the prosecution's case thus far has been dotted with suburban figures.

Just last week, Highland Park's Thomas Balanoff, a local labor leader in the Service Employees International Union, testified he acted as a go-between in advocating Valerie Jarrett for Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Blagojevich made overtures about being named head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in exchange for appointing her, but Balanoff told him, "That's not going to happen," and also rejected Blagojevich's hints about receiving a high-ranking union job instead.

Balanoff later told Jarrett that Blagojevich had talked "some goofy stuff." And he indicated he felt rebuffed as Blagojevich moved on to other Senate schemes, saying, "I really felt he blew me off."

Earlier in the trial, Hinsdale's John Johnston, owner of the trotter tracks Maywood and Balmoral Park, testified with immunity that his own lobbyist, former Blagojevich chief of staff Alonzo Monk, shook him down for a campaign contribution while legislation favorable to the racing industry was sitting on the governor's desk awaiting signature. Johnston's tracks alone were losing $9,000 a day during the delay.

He said Monk told him of Blagojevich: "He's concerned that if he signed the racing legislation you might not be forthcoming with a contribution."

Johnston called that "inappropriate." Monk immediately responded, "OK, different subject matter, I really need you to get a contribution in by the end of the year."

"I knew I was never going to write a check," Johnston said, "but I didn't like being put in an uncomfortable situation. ... I felt as though for the first time the two were starting to be linked. ... It was reality. He was linking it."

He said at the end of that conversation, at Maywood, "I showed him the door. I never spoke to him again and never wrote the contribution check." Blagojevich signed the bill into law the week after his arrest.

Other suburban residents have been identified as figures in the government's proffer. Some were victims of alleged Blagojevich shakedowns and figure to testify, others were allegedly involved in bribery schemes and may not, or, for the few already charged and having pled guilty, might in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, of Plano, was identified as Individual C, in attempting to help Blagojevich pass a capital bill, although there seems little damning in that alone.

Gerry Krozel, an executive with Bridgeview's Prairie Material Sales, was hit up for a contribution as Highway Contractor 1 as part of the 2008 capital program and figures to testify to the same effect as Johnston.

The same goes for Bartlett asphalt and construction executive Michael Vondra, who was supposedly pegged by Blagojevich as target of a $100,000 donation after asking for help on a deal with BP. He and his family and firms gave more than $100,000 to Blagojevich.

Prosecutors claim Imad Almanaseer, of Glenview, was one of five Rezko plants on the Illinois Planning Board, and Jacob Kiferbaum, of Glencoe, was a contractor involved in kickbacks concerning the planning board and Mercy Hospital and Naperville's Edward Hospital. Kiferbaum pled guilty to extortion in a case in which he was a co-defendant with Blagojevich appointee Stuart Levine.

Ivan J. Dvorak, of Lake Forest, is president of Chicago's Teng & Associates, a company that did tens of millions of dollars of state business and was hit up for contributions.

J.B. Pritzker, of Evanston, was a contributor with deep pockets mentioned by Blagojevich as a possible Senate candidate. Just last week, the prosecution played wiretaps in which Blagojevich discussed appointing him in exchange for being named to head a well-endowed foundation Pritzker and his colleagues could potentially fund.

Joliet pharmacist Harish Bhatt attended the Schaumburg India House meeting and, like Bedi, Nayak and Patel, was a contributor to both Blagojevich and Jackson.

Then there's Naperville's Pamela Davis, who kicked off the investigation in 2003 when she reported a "pay-to-play" shakedown to the FBI and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. As president and chief executive officer of Edward Hospital, she detailed a scheme much like those laid out by Monk on the stand, in which she applied to the state health planning board for funding on an expansion project, but was told to use a specified contractor - Kiferbaum - if she expected to get it approved. When she picked her own contractor and it was rejected, she reported it to the FBI and wore a wire for eight months, resulting in the corrption case against Levine and Kiferbaum.

From that beginning in the suburbs, the case extended eventually up the chain of command to Blagojevich, or so the government is out to prove in its case against him.