The pay-to-play scheme that cost former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich his job and landed him in federal prison is again threatening to entangle US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois in its web of cronyism and political corruption.
Robert Blagojevich, the ex-governor's brother, is expected to talk this month to a congressional ethics committee about Representative Jackson, according to news reports. The information he will relay to the House Committee on Ethics has never been made public, the reports say.
Blagojevich the brother has long maintained that “I have information I think will help them find the truth,” as he told the Chicago Sun-Times last fall. “Based on what I know, I believe Jesse Jackson Jr. has a lot of unanswered questions that he needs to answer.”
During the ex-governor's second trial on corruption charges, federal prosecutors said Jackson was involved in a potential $1 million deal by which he would win the governor's nod to fill the vacant Senate seat. Jackson denied any wrongdoing and has never been charged. Former Governor Blagojevich was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
The US Office of Congressional Ethics investigated Jackson starting in 2009 to determine if he improperly lobbied Illinois' governor for the US Senate seat. In a late December report, the House Committee on Ethics said there was “probable cause” that Jackson was engaged in a pay-to-play scheme at a time when the governor was seeking campaign donations in exchange for an appointment to the seat. Robert Blagojevich's impending testimony may indicate the committee is resuming its examination of Jackson.
Witness testimony and a wiretap played during Rod Blagojevich's trial revealed that Jackson and the governor negotiated through two separate businessmen from the Indian-American community on Chicago's North Side. Rajinder Bedi, who worked for then-Governor Blagojevich, testified that he met with Jackson and Raghuveer Nayak, a Jackson supporter and fundraiser, in a downtown restaurant on Oct. 28, 2008. At that meeting, Mr. Bedi testified, Jackson expressed interest in the Senate seat, and the discussion turned to political fundraising.
Bedi said Mr. Nayak discussed the possibility of Jackson raising as much as $6 million to tilt the governor's Senate selection in Jackson's favor.
A wiretap recording from Oct. 31, 2008, showed Blagojevich’s surprise upon hearing from Bedi about Jackson’s overtures.
“Unbelievable isn’t it … we were approached, pay to play. That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand, an emissary came, then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him a senator,” Blagojevich says.
Jackson denied having any role in a pay-to-play scheme. “My interest in the Senate seat was based on years of public service, which I am proud of, not some improper scheme with anyone,” he said in a statement released after Bedi's testimony.
Robert Blagojevich was originally indicted along with his brother, but the four charges against him were dropped after a jury deadlocked in the first trial.
When Jackson testified in the second trial for the prosecution, he said Rod Blagojevich refused to appoint Jackson’s wife as the head of the Illinois Lottery because Jackson failed to deliver a $25,000 campaign contribution.
“In classic Elvis Presley fashion, he snapped his fingers and said, ‘You should have given me that $25,000,’ ” Jackson said.