A longtime fundraiser for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. who was a figure in scandals that landed former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich behind bars was sentenced Monday to two years in prison for health care fraud.
The judge in Chicago sentenced Raghuveer Nayak, 59, for bribing doctors for referrals to surgery centers he owned -- a case not directly related to Jackson and Blagojevich, both of whom are currently in prison and briefly became an issue during the hearing. Jackson pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, while jurors convicted Blagojevich for corruption.
Nayak made a brief statement in court, asking, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman, "Please, have mercy on me and my family." The Chicago-areas businessman pleaded guilty last year to one fraud and one tax count, which, combined, carried a maximum 23-year prison term.
Jackson and Blagojevich's names arose Monday when prosecutors and a defense attorney clashed over Nayak's alleged role in the most sensational charge against Blagojevich: That the then-governor sought to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat for campaign donations or a job.
During Blagojevich's trials, prosecutors entered evidence that Nayak had proposed raising $1 million for Blagojevich's campaign if the Chicago Democrat named Jackson to the Senate seat. Previously, neither Nayak nor his attorneys had ever sought to deny that accusation publicly.
But on Monday, defense attorney Thomas McQueen raised doubts about the allegation, questioning the credibility of Rajinder Bedi's testimony at Blagojevich's trials. Bedi, a longtime friend of Nayak's, claimed direct knowledge of the offer.
Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton said McQueen's comments questioning the allegation contradicted Nayak's own interviews with federal authorities, and she warned prosecutors might now be able to use Nayak's federal interviews against him.
That prospect visibly unnerved Nayak, who told the judge he was confused and afraid.
"I'm really scared of the government. ... I'm scared to take a cup of coffee. I don't know if it's legal or not," he said, his voice breaking.
The contentious issue was defused after a lunch break, however, when McQueen said wanted to strike all his comments casting doubt on the Senate seat allegation. Prosecutors said they accepted his retraction.
Prosecutors had wanted to Gettleman to consider Nayak's contribution-for-Senate seat offer to boost his sentence in the fraud case, saying he'd "corrupted the political process." Gettleman, though, said Monday he would not give it "a lot of weight"
Nayak, who was also fined $500,000, must report to prison on June 1.