A Chicago banker whose wife is accused of bilking millions from a no-bid state contract has helped raise more than a half million dollars for Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaigns since 2001.
Amrish Mahajan was a driving force behind his wife's drug-screening company, now facing questions about how it kept its long-standing state contract despite troubles with taxes, licensing and years of alleged fraud.A review of records and dozens of interviews reveal the company was built on Mahajan's deep Chicago political connections and its government business grew along with his reputation as a power broker in the city's Indian community.
Get the Chicago Tribune delivered to your home for only $1 a week >>
Mahajan, 60, the president of Mutual Bank, is courted by city and state politicians as a man who can deliver support and money.
He is referred to as "Uncle Amrish" by the businessmen who line the predominantly Indian corridor along Devon Avenue, by his bank customers, and even by one of the governor's children.
Mahajan's ties to Blagojevich run deep--including hiring the Democratic governor's wife last year as a real estate agent on $5.7 million in private land deals.
Blagojevich has acknowledged the family friendship with the Mahajans. But he has attempted to distance himself since a Tribune report last year revealed the real estate deals involving Blagojevich's wife, Patricia.
"I know Amrish," Blagojevich said last week. "There is no relationship now."
He refused to elaborate. On Tuesday, the governor's office did not return repeated phone and e-mail messages.
Mahajan has helped organize more than a dozen Blagojevich fundraisers since 2001, often arriving with the governor, introducing him, and staying at his side through much of the evening, according to interviews with donors and a Tribune analysis of campaign finance reports.
As recently as last November, Mahajan was among a phalanx of top fundraisers from the Indian community treated as VIPs at Blagojevich's party celebrating his re-election.
"He has had many, many fundraisers for the governor," said Moti Agarwal, who hosted a Blagojevich fundraiser with Mahajan at Agarwal's home last fall that raised nearly $60,000. Agarwal is owner of a 94-room Country Inns & Suites and the holder of a $4.7 million loan from Mutual Bank.
"Amrish brought the governor. I know they are very close," Agarwal said. "He introduced us. It was nice to get to meet him, but I ask for no favors. I have no stake in anything, and it wasn't to gain any business for me."
At least $300,000 donated at Mahajan-organized events has come from customers with more than $70 million in loans from Mahajan's bank, the Tribune found. At least another $200,000 was raised from others at those fundraisers.
At one political event last year, the governor's 10-year-old daughter, Amy, was overheard by at least two Blagojevich supporters interviewed by the Tribune referring to Mahajan as "Uncle Amrish."
Reached Tuesday at his Mutual Bank offices in Chicago, Mahajan referred all questions to his attorney.
Terence Gillespie, whose law firm represents the Mahajans, declined to address the specifics of this report. But he said "no one has alleged that Mr. Mahajan has done anything illegal or improper, and certainly having a friend in the governor is not improper."
Mahajan's wife, Anita, was arrested last week on charges of overbilling millions of dollars on her state contract to provide drug screenings to clients of the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services. Her downtown Chicago company, K.K. Bio-Science Inc., has held the no-bid state contract since the early 1990s.
`Uncle Amrish' helped raise $500,000 for Blagojevich
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.