NRI offered to raise $1 mn for Senate seat
Washington: US prosecutors have alleged that an Indian American supporter of Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr told him he would raise USD 1 million in return for then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich naming Jackson to the Senate.
The allegation, made on Thursday during Blagojevich's federal corruption trial in Chicago, was the first time prosecutors publicly suggested Jackson, son of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, was aware of efforts by his allies to swap campaign cash for his appointment to the Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama.
Prosecutors also played a rapid-fire sequence of secret wiretap recordings that show Blagojevich reluctantly warming to Jackson as a Senate pick after first profanely ripping him as a non-starter, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Jackson has not been charged and has long denied knowledge or involvement of the alleged scheme to buy the Senate seat, which surfaced almost as soon as Blagojevich's arrest on December 09, 2008.
The new allegation was aired at a hearing out of jurors' earshot after assistant US Attorney Christopher Niewoehner began questioning Rajinder Bedi, a prominent businessman in Chicago's Indian community who also worked for the state under Blagojevich, the Tribune said.
The former governor has referred to Bedi as "my Sikh warrior". Bedi testified he with Jackson and another important Indian businessman, Raghuveer Nayak, at a restaurant on October 28, 2008, and Jackson expressed his interest in Obama's Senate seat.
At that point, US District Judge James Zagel sent jurors out of the room, then asked Niewoehner to explain where the testimony was headed, the Tribune said.
"Nayak says to Jackson in Bedi's presence, 'I will raise a million if he appoints you to the Senate seat'," Niewoehner explained.
Zagel barred Niewoehner from asking Bedi about that part of the conversation before jurors, but Bedi did testify that both Jackson's interest in the seat and fundraising were discussed with Jackson sitting at the table, the Tribune said.
Prosecutors then played wiretaps of conversations in which Blagojevich and his brother, Robert, appeared aware of the approach involving Jackson, the daily said.
In one, recorded the same day as that restaurant meeting, Robert Blagojevich told the governor that Bedi had filled him in on the details, including Nayak's offer to do "some accelerated fundraising" on the governor's behalf if Jackson got the Senate nod.
Three days later, Blagojevich was recorded talking about overtures for Jackson in a conversation with one of his deputy governors, Robert Greenlee, prosecutors said.