A one-time contributor to former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. who was also a figure in scandals related to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded guilty Friday to bribing doctors for referrals to surgery centers he owned.
A somber Raghuveer Nayak fumbled with a pair of eyeglasses as he pleaded guilty in federal court in Chicago to one fraud and one tax count. Combined, they carry a maximum 23-year prison term, as well as potentially stiff fines.
Nayak, 58, of Oak Brook, was once a major campaign contributor in Illinois, giving nearly $500,000 -- mostly to Democrats such as Jackson and Blagojevich -- between 2000 and 2008, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform records show.
The plea followed a surprise announcement earlier Friday that he'd cut a deal with the government -- short-circuiting a trial, which had been slated to start in less than two weeks.
Over five years, prosecutors say Nayak paid one podiatrist up to $300 each time the doctor steered a patient to one of Nayak's Chicago-area centers. Nayak didn't declare the cash payments and urged doctors not to either, prosecutors said.
Minutes before pleading guilty, Nayak hesitated when U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman asked if he fully agreed with prosecutors' summary of his crimes. Nayak paused, shifted uncomfortably and responded, "I have to agree."
"No, you don't have to agree to anything," said Gettleman, who told Nayak he could still choose to go to trial. When the judge asked him a second time if he agreed with prosecutors' account, Nayak said promptly, "I fully agree."
During Blagojevich's first corruption trial in 2010, prosecutors said a witness was prepared to testify that Jackson instructed Nayak to raise campaign money for Blagojevich, allegedly with the aim of getting the then-governor to appoint Jackson to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
Neither Nayak nor Jackson was charged in connection to those allegations.
Last month, Jackson was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for illegal spending $750,000 in campaign funds on person items. Blagojevich began serving a 14-year-old sentence last year for corruption.
Nayak's sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 22.