Updated 06/20/12 – 8:35 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A key figure in the Rod Blagojevich corruption case was arrested on Wednesday on federal fraud and tax charges.
Raghuveer Nayak was a top fund-raiser for Blagojevich and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Nayak, according to investigators, had offered to raise millions of dollars in campaign cash for the former governor, hoping it would help Jackson secure an appointment to President Obama’s old Senate seat. He also admittedly paid to have restaurant hostess Giovanna Huidobro, with whom Jackson was having an affair, flown between Chicago and Washington, D.C. on two occasions.
The charges filed on Wednesday have noting to do directly with the Blagojevich case. Federal authorities allege Nayak paid bribes and kickbacks to other physicians for patient referrals and filed false tax returns that understated his income.
Nayak owns two Rogers Park surgical centers, and has interest in eight more outpatient centers.
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Nayak, 57, was charged with 10 counts of mail fraud, five counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering, and four counts of filing false income tax returns for the years 2005-08.
Although the charges have nothing to do with the Blagojevich or Jackson allegations, some observers believe Nayak’s arrest could be part of an effort by the feds to squeeze Nayak for information on a more prominent target.
Attorney Michael Ettinger, who successfully defended Blagojevich’s brother Robert, said it’s interesting that the FBI arrested Nayak at his home, instead of just mailing him a notice to appear in court.
“You’re in custody. You’re arrested. And when you get a notice to appear, you’re not in custody. You walk in the building through the front door,” Ettinger said. “I’m speculating they want to squeeze him on something. He cooperated with the government, and not only did they charge him subsequently, but they arrested him.”
Ettinger said it appears the feds are playing hardball with the physical arrest because they want to press Nayak to cooperate in an investigation of a higher value target.
“They went to this extent, and arrested him at home? There’s something going on beyond these charges. You know it, I know it, just from our experience. I don’t think it’s right,” Ettinger told CBS 2’s Mike Parker.
A federal judge set Nayak’s bond at $10 million at a hearing on Wednesday, and Nayak agreed to put up six pieces of property in Illinois and Indiana as collateral. He was released from custody immediately after the hearing and ran out of the courthouse to avoid reporters.
The indictment seeks forfeiture of at least $1.8 million in alleged fraud proceeds, or substitute assets, including Nayak’s Oak Brook residence, the Rogers Park One Day Surgery Center, Inc., located at 7616 North Paulina St., and the Lakeshore Surgery Center LLC, located at 7200 North Western Ave.
Between 2000 and December 2010, Nayak allegedly defrauded patients by paying and arranging to pay bribes and kickbacks in the form of cash and other hidden payments to physicians who would refer their patients to Nayak’s facilities for medical treatment, prosecutors said.
Nayak paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to different physicians in exchange for patient referrals, the charges allege.
Prosecutors said Nayak allegedly concealed and attempted to conceal the scheme by making payments in cash, disguising the payments as advertising, or by disguising the true purpose of the payments.
The tax counts allege that Nayak understated his gross income when he reported the following amounts: $4,643,916 for 2005; $6,471,865 for 2006; $5,791,109 for 2007; and $9,362,647 for 2008.
Blagojevich was convicted on multiple fraud counts, including a scheme to sell off Obama’s Senate seat, and is serving his prison term in Colorado.
Meantime, the House Ethics Committee is still investigating Jackson and whether he directed anyone to offer campaign cash to Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate, or whether he used Congressional staffers and resources to campaign for the Senate seat.