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William Jefferson federal bribery investigation

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Summary

The FBI has been investigating Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) for his role in an alleged bribery conspiracy involving Jefferson, foreign officials, and deals with two African technology companies. The investigation has centered around Virginia investor Lori Mody--who cooperated with the FBI investigation--and a company called iGate Inc, which held rights to a technology that delivers high-speed Internet service across traditional copper wires. The FBI has alleged that Jefferson committed crimes by trying to arrange for Ghanaian and Nigerian state-owned telephone companies to use this technology. [1]

The FBI filed an affidavit on May 18, 2006 supporting its application for a search warrant that allowed the FBI to search Jefferson's congressional office on May 20, 2006. The FBI alleged that there was probable cause to believe Jefferson committed:

  • bribery of a public official
  • wire fraud (scheme or artifice to deprive persons of honest services)
  • wire fraud (scheme or artifice to obtain money)
  • bribery of a foreign official
  • conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, bribery of a foreign official and to defraud the United States with regard to other charges. [2]

FBI allegations

More specifically, the FBI alleged that Jefferson was:

  • "communicating with both the President and Vice President of Nigeria in an effort to secure the iGate business venture there"
  • "sending an official letter to the Nigerian Vice President seeking his assistance in overcoming opposition to the iGate business venture from the government-owned Nigerian telephone company"
  • "introducing [Mody] to officials at the Export-Import Bank of the United States to assist [Mody] in obtaining loan guarantees for the Nigerian and Ghanaian business ventures"
  • "writing an official letter to the Vice President of Ghana to obtain approval of the business venture in that country"
  • "traveling to Ghana, paid for by [Mody], to meet with high-ranking government officials such as the Vice President, the Minister of Communications, and others to obtain further approval to conduct the business venture there"
  • "using his congressional staff to plan the trip to Ghana and to obtain travel documents for the individuals making the trip with him"
  • "communicating with the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana about the trip and scheduling of his meetings with Ghanaian government officials."
  • "discussed, with [Mody] and others, the payment of bribes to high-ranking foreign government officials to promote the business ventures in Africa."
  • "discussed with [Mody] the payment of a substantial monetary sum by [Mody] to [redacted] (in the range of $500,000) before the commencement of business operations in Nigeria... On July 30, 2005, Congressman Jefferson met [Mody] at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, Virginia. While at the meeting, [Mody] gave Congressman Jefferson $100,000 cash concealed in a lether briefcase for the sole purpose that it would be forwarded to [redacted] by Jefferson in exchange for [redacted] assistance in securing the appropriate approvals to ensure the success of the Nigerian business venture. During a search of Congressman Jefferson's Washington, D.C. residence, executed on August 3, 2005, $90,000 of the cash previously delivered by [Mody], was found in Jefferson's freezer concealed inside frozen food containers." [3]

Chronology of bribery conspiracy, according to FBI allegations

The beginning of the conspiracy, according to the FBI

Brett M. Pfeffer, a legislative aide to Jefferson from 1995 to 1998, was hired by Lori Mody to be the president of W2 Corp., a an investment company controlled by Mody. [4]

According to the FBI, Pfeffer was employed to "seek out various investment opportunities on Mody's behalf." In June 2004, Pfeffer introduced Mody to Jefferson over a lunch in New Orleans where Jefferson told Mody about iGate's efforts to secure a deal in Nigeria to use its technology to deliver high-speed internet access over a state-run network being built by the Nigerian government. Jefferson told Mody that iGate needed an investor for the deal. After Jefferson left, Pfeffer told Mody that "if Jefferson helped them to secure a good business opportunity, then Jefferson would expect to get something out of it," according to the FBI. [5]

According to the FBI, from June 2004 to February 2005 Mody participated in meetings in Northern Virginia, Washington, DC and New Orleans where the iGate deal was further discussed. At one meeting on June 25, 2004 at Jefferson's congressional office in Washington, Jefferson introduced Mody to the President and CEO of iGate, Vernon Jackson, and "vouched" for him. Jefferson stated that he had a contact in Nigeria as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and as head of the Nigerian Caucus. Jefferson then made a Power Point presentation in which he and Jackson proposed that Mody invest in the deal, and that she pay iGate $44.9 million for the rights to iGate's technology and equipment for the project. [6]

Jefferson attempted to use the U.S. Export-Import Bank, according to FBI

According to the FBI, Jefferson, through Pfeffer, suggested to Mody that after an initial payment of $3.5 million that the bulk of the $45 million investment could be financed by the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a federally-funded agency that gives low-interest loans to create markets for U.S. exports. Mody transferred the $3.5 million over July-September 2004 to iGate for what she believed was forwarding to NDTV, a Nigerian telecommunications company. However, the FBI examined iGate's records and believes that "iGate has apparently forwarded to NDTV only $1.75 million of [Mody's] $3.5 million total payment. The remaining $1.75 million appears to have been spent by Jackson for other purposes."[7]

According to the FBI, Jefferson, Pfeffer and Mody met on April 12, 2005 in Washington, DC and Jefferson explained his plan to obtain Export-Import Bank financing for the deal. On June 20, 2005, Mody met with a former Export-Import Bank employee who suggested that Jefferson introduce Mody to a Bank official, stating that "when a Congressman asks to come to Ex-Im Bank, it is a big deal. It's a very big deal." Then, on July 15, 2005, Jefferson, Pfeffer and Mody met with a member of the Bank's Board of Directors to discuss the Bank's funding of the iGate deal in Nigeria and another in Ghana. Jefferson arranged the meeting and advocated funding the Nigerian deal while there without mentioning his own involvement. [8]

Jefferson's daughter helped set up company for deal, according to FBI

According to the FBI, in August 2004 Jefferson told Mody that one of his daughters needed to be retained by Mody to do legal work on the iGate deal, including setting up a Nigerian company for Mody called "W2-IBBS, Limited", to handle the Nigerian deal. Mody paid her law firm "thousands of dollars for legal work," according to the FBI. [9]

Jefferson also reportedly wanted another family member put on a monthly retainer of $2,500 to $5,000. [10]

On March 23, 2006, a grand jury subpoenaed the records of Jones Walker, the law firm that employed Jamila Jefferson, Jefferson's daughter. Jamila Jefferson worked there in the summer of 2004, which was when Pfeffer's plea documents state he discussed the iGate deal with Rep. Jefferson in the lobby of a law firm where a relative of his worked. [11]

Jefferson's alleged co-conspirator, Mody, goes to FBI, becomes FBI informant

According to the FBI, in late 2004 Mody started to suspect that Pfeffer and Jackson had been defrauding her and in February 2004 she fired Pfeffer and cut off communication with Jackson. In March 2005 Mody contacted the FBI and agreed to cooperate with their investigation, and Mody agreed to a wire. She met with Pfeffer on March 31, 2005 under the guise of restoring their relationship and business deals. An hour after the meeting Pfeffer called Mody to tell her that he had just spoken with Jefferson and Jefferson was willing to continue working on the deals. [12]

According to the FBI, Pfeffer, Mody and Jefferson communicated numerous times about the Nigerian deal over the next few weeks. On April 27, Jefferson met with Mody for dinner in Tysons Corner, Va., and Jefferson laid out how the Nigerian deal would work, using a joint venture between the company that Jefferson's daughter had set up for Mody and the Nigerian state-owned telephone company. Jefferson also said that he had talked about the Nigerian deal with a businessman that he described as "very, well, the word might be... corrupt," and said that the businessman might prove a good intermediary with the Nigerian state-owned telephone company. [13]

Jefferson promoted the deal to Nigerian officials, according to FBI

According to the FBI, after Mody handed over 30% of her Nigerian company to a company controlled by Jefferson's daughters and son-in-law (see below), Jefferson wrote a letter to the Vice President of Nigeria promoting the iGate deal. Mody later gave a copy of the letter to the FBI, which stated:

"I wish to bring a project to your attention by which a U.S. Company desires to invest USD $50,000,000 to provide high speed internet service to Nigeria over Nitel's [the Nigerian state-owned telephone company] copper wire infrastructure... It is important that Nitel recognize the acceptance of Rosecom [a company owned by "John Doe #1"], on behalf of itself and its U.S. partner, and permit them to launch their project in Nigeria as expected... I hope you will be able to check into this matter with the Managing Director of Nitel prior to your trip to the U.S. in July 2005. I look forward to having a chance to meet with you then to discuss or to conclude this matter at that time."

The letter was signed "William J. Jefferson; Member of Congress". [14]

According to the FBI, Jefferson also drafted letters to the Managing Director of the Nigerian state-owned telecom company with the help of one of his congressional staffers. [15]

Conspiracy to bribe foreign officials, according to FBI

The FBI affidavit states that Jefferson "discussed, with [Mody] and others, the payment of bribes to high-ranking foreign government officials to promote the business ventures in Africa" and lists “bribery of a foreign official” as one of the offenses for which they are investigating Jefferson. The affidavit lists several incidents to support the charge:

1. According to the FBI, on May 12, 2005, Jefferson met Mody for dinner in Washington, DC, and talked about how he and Jackson had discussed the iGate deal with the Nigerian Communications Commission and an unnamed Nigerian businessman (known as "John Doe #1" in the affidavit) during a previous trip to Nigeria. [16]

  • Note: Jefferson filed travel disclosure forms for a trip to Nigeria and other African countries from February 15-22, 2004. The trip, valued at $16,313, was paid for by iGate, Verizon, Leth Energy and Project Consulting Services. The trip was described by Jefferson as: “In his capacity as co-chair of Congressional Nigeria Caucus & Africa Trade & Investment Caucus; Rep Jefferson led a business delegation to West Africa to explore general investment opportunities & AGOA (African Growth & Opportunity Act).” [17]

According to the FBI, Jefferson told Mody at the dinner that the unnamed businessman would be needed to bribe officials in Nigeria:

“But we need him [John Doe #1]. We got to motivate him really good. He's got a lot of folks to pay off. In his mind, he's gotta... he'll tell me I've got to give the Minister something [unintelligible]. I'll say I don't want to know about that. Whatever you gotta do, you do. We don't want to hear about the Minister. All the stuff you got to pay the local people, that's your business... He's gotta, if he's gotta pay Minister X, we don't want to know. It's not our deal. We're not paying Minister X a damn thing. That's all, you know, international fraud crap. We're not doing that. We're not doing any of that gets us [unintelligible]. Whatever they do locally, that's their business." [18]

2. In another, heavily blacked-out section, the affidavit describes other conversations about bribery. Over three conversations in June 2005, Jefferson told Mody that an individual, blacked-out in the affidavit, who lived in Maryland and operated a foundation that was likely a front, might need to be bribed. Jefferson met with the unnamed individual on July 18, 2005 and later told Mody that the individual would require 50% of the profits from the Nigerian deal and a cash payment of about $500,000 on the “front end.” In exchange, the individual would assist in canceling a previous debt iGate held with a Nigerian telecom company and get the Nigerian state-owned telecom company to agree to locate iGate technology at its facilities. [19]

  • Note: a house owned by Atiku Abubakar, the vice president of Nigeria, in Potomac, Md., was raided by FBI agents as part of the August 3, 2005 searches. [20] It is possible Abubakar was the unnamed individual in the affidavit who "currently lives in the United States (Maryland) and operates a foundation there." [21] Abubakar's wife, Jamilah Jennifer Atiku-Abubakar, runs the GEDE foundation, which was started in March 2002. [22]

According to the FBI, on July 26, 2005, Jefferson met with Mody to discuss the Nigerian deal and Jefferson told Mody that the unnamed individual was returning to Nigeria and that "he must have that..." and pointed to a piece of paper on which he had written "cash." [23]

Mody responded by asking, "What if we do a smaller amount in that and then follow it with something that is wired?... if it would help matters, I thought I could... probably no more than 100, you know, K, I could produce you know that word," referring to "cash." [24]

Jefferson replied, "Good idea." [25]

According to the FBI, Jefferson then met Mody at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, Va., on July 30, 2005 to discuss the Nigerian deal and a Ghanaian deal. The two then went to Mody's car and Jefferson took a briefcase with $100,000 in cash in $100 bills and placed it in his car. The exchange was videotaped by the FBI. [26]

At a meeting on August 1, 2005, Jefferson indicated that he had passed the money on to the unnamed individual, but when FBI agents raided his Washington, DC residence, they found $90,000 of what they say was the same cash wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen food containers in his freezer. The FBI believes that Jefferson probably gave $4,800 to one of his congressional aides and an additional $4,900 to his attorney. The serial numbers on the bills matched the money given to Jefferson on July 30. [27]

Jefferson also took bribes to promote a Ghana deal, according to FBI

According to the FBI, on May 31, 2005, Mody and Jefferson met and discussed setting up a deal in Ghana similar to the Nigerian operation. Jefferson told Mody that he had planned to visit Ghana soon and that they could travel there in July 2005. On June 8, Mody signed an agreement to make a multi-million dollar investment in the Ghana deal after Jefferson assured her he would do his best to go to Ghana. [28]

  • Note: Jefferson filed a travel disclosure form for a trip to Ghana from July 6-11, 2005 for the purpose of "education and business development." The $9,248 trip was paid for by Mody's Win Win Strategies Foundation. [29] [30]

According to the FBI, Jefferson arranged his trip using his congressional staff, the U.S. ambassador to Ghana, and the U.S. embassy there. On the trip, Jefferson met with Ghanaian officials, including the vice president and minister of communications, to obtain approval for the Ghana deal. Jefferson also told Mody that he wrote a letter to and called the Ghanaian ambassador to set up meetings in Ghana. [31]

Additionally, Jefferson wrote an official letter on House of Representatives letterhead to the Ghanaian vice president advocating the deal, signing the letter "William J. Jefferson; Member of Congress." The letter stated:

"I am leading a delegation of six Americans to Ghana to pursue the establishment of a project to provide real broadband, or high speed internet services over the existing copper wire infra-structure of Ghana Telecom [a quasi-governmental agency majority owned by the government]... The establishment of the project in Ghana depends principally upon the decisions of the appropriate Ghanaian authorities." [32]

In return for his efforts, on July 21, 2005, Jefferson directed that 30 percent of the shares of the Ghanaian company Mody would set up for the Ghana deal should go to "Global," likely referring to Global Energy & Environmental Services, LLC, which was controlled by his family (see below). [33]

What Jefferson got, according to FBI

According to the FBI:

  • In December 2004, Jefferson told Mody over lunch in the Congressional dining room that he knew Pfeffer had told her that he was going to require something in exchange for his help and wanted her to give five to seven percent of Mody's new Nigerian company to his daughters. [34]
  • On May 12, 2005, at a dinner with Mody, Jefferson upped the percentage of the Nigerian profits he wanted going to his children from seven percent to 18-20 percent. Jefferson later laughed and said, "All these damn notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking, as if the FBI is watching." In fact, the FBI was recording the conversation.
  • On June 8, 2005, Mody met with Jefferson over dinner in Washington, DC, where Mody gave Jefferson stock certificates for her Nigerian company that Jefferson's daughter had helped set up. By this time Jefferson had upped his percentage to 30% of the company and Mody gave him that amount of stock in the name of "Global Energy & Environmental Services, LLC." Jefferson had described Global on May 31, 2005, to Mody as a Nigerian company held in the name of Jefferson's children and run by his son in law.
  • On July 21, 2005, Jefferson directed that 30 percent of the shares of the Ghanaian company Mody would set up for the Ghana deal should go to "Global," likely referring to Global Energy & Environmental Services, LLC, which was controlled by his family.
  • When the FBI interviewed iGate CEO Veron Jackson on August 3, 2005, Jackson told them that after helping promote iGate's technology in late 2000, Jefferson told Jackson that it would not be legal for him to continue due to his official position. However, Jefferson then directed that payments be made to the ANJ Group, a Louisiana LLC which lists Jefferson's wife and one of his daughters as managers of the company, including 35 percent of the profits from any African deals. Between February 2001 and September 2004, iGate paid ANJ and Jefferson a total of more than $400,000. Jackson acknowledged to the FBI that the arrangement with ANJ was set up to conceal Jefferson's role and make the payments seem like they were in exchange for legitimate consulting services.
  • The company controlled by Jefferson's wife, the ANJ Group, received $89,225.18 in transfers from Mody in late June and early July of 2005. The payments were part of $10 million in financing Jefferson sought from Mody as part of his efforts to oust Jackson as head of iGate after Jackson had become antagonistic toward Jefferson and Mody when they would not make more financing available to him.

Chronology of FBI/DOJ investigation and actions

  • August 3, 2005: FBI agents executed search warrants against Jefferson's Washington and New Orleans homes, the Kentucky and New Jersey offices of iGate, and the Potomac, Md., house of Atiku Abubakar, the vice president of Nigeria. The agents found about $90,000 in Jefferson's freezer. [35]
  • January 12, 2006: Brett M. Pfeffer, a legislative aide to Jefferson from 1995 to 1998, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official and aiding and abetting the bribery of a public official in 2004 and 2005. Jefferson has been named by law enforcement sources as the "public official." [36] Pfeffer agreed to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation surrounding Jefferson and provide testimony against a member of Congress as part of his plea deal. [37]
  • March 23, 2006: a grand jury subpoenaed the records of Jones Walker, the law firm that employed Jefferson's daughter, Jamila Jefferson. Jamila Jefferson worked there in the summer of 2004, which was when Pfeffer's plea documents state he discussed the iGate deal with Rep. Jefferson in the lobby of a law firm where a relative of his worked. [38]
  • March 31, 2006: six of Jefferson's aides were subpoenaed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.[39]
  • May 3, 2006: Vernon Jackson, chief executive of iGate, pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Jefferson. According to the prosecution, "Jackson paid $367,500 in checks and wire transfers over a four-year period to a company controlled by the congressman's wife in exchange for help promoting iGate technology in Africa. Jackson also gave the company a 24 percent stake in iGate and paid for $80,000 in travel expenses on the congressman's trips to Africa to promote iGate, which uses technology to transmit data over traditional telephone lines." The estimated total value of the bribes is between $400,000 and $1 million.[40]
  • May 9, 2006: the Washington Post revealed that Lori Mody, the Northern Virginia investor, had worn a wire in meetings with Jefferson and recorded phone conversations with the congressman.[41] This information came from a court order issued that also detailed the litany of charges the investigators are looking to bring against Jefferson: bribery of a public official, bribery of a foreign official, two fraud charges, and a conspiracy charge.[42]

"there is probable cause to believe that the above-described Washington, D.C. Congressional Office of Congressman William J. Jefferson contains property constituting evidence of the commission of: a)bribery of a public official... b) wire fraud (scheme or artifice to deprive persons of honest services)... c) wire fraud (scheme or artifice to obtain money)... d) bribery of a foreign official... and e) conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, bribery of a foreign official and to defraud the United States with regard to the above-referenced crimes." [44]

The search warrant also states that the FBI has Jefferson on video accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from investor Lori Mody, who was cooperating with the FBI and was wearing a wire. [45]
  • July 3, 2006: Roll Call reported that the Justice Department issued a subpoena for e-mails from Jefferson. The congressman has the right to challenge the release of certain emails under the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution. It is unclear at this point whether he will choose to do so. [46]
  • September 8, 2006: Vernon Jackson is sentenced to more than seven years in prison. It is reported that the sentence will likely be reduced as he continues to cooperate with investigators. [47]

Nigerian vice-president denies relationship with Jefferson

On July 19, 2006, Nigerian Vice-President Atiku Abubakar denied that he accepted bribes or had a business relationship with Jefferson. He asserted that the congressman never "suggested--in any way--providing any personal economic benefits" to him. Jefferson has been accused by the FBI of "communicating with both the President and Vice President of Nigeria in an effort to secure the iGate business venture there," and "sending an official letter to the Nigerian Vice President seeking his assistance in overcoming opposition to the iGate business venture from the government-owned Nigerian telephone company." [48] In his statement of innocence, Abubaker asked U.S. prosecutors to issue a statement declaring him to be an "innocent victim" in the Jefferson ordeal. [49]

Jefferson maintains his innocence

Jefferson has continued to claim that he was shocked by the allegations and guilty pleas and repeatedly stated, "I have never, over all the years of my public service, accepted payment from anyone for the performance of any act or duty for which I have been elected." [50] After his former aide Pfeffer pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy, Jefferson stated that he was "disappointed and in some ways perplexed" by the plea. [51]

Jefferson hires crisis consultant

On July 7, 2006, it was reported that Jefferson hired Judy Smith, a lawyer, to serve as his crisis communications consultant. Smith’s prior clients include Monica Lewinsky and the family of murdered Washington intern Chandra Levy. [52]

Congressional support for Jefferson

On May 4, 2006, the day after iGate CEO Vernon Jackson pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both stated that Jefferson should be investigated by the House ethics committee. Pelosi stated, "It is his private matter, and he should be investigated because of the stories that have been in the press and the guilty plea yesterday." But neither representative filed their own complaint with the ethics committee, which would have initiated the investigation process. [53]

Other Democrats declined to criticize Jefferson publicly the same day:

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said, "I just talked to him... He was upbeat and confident that it would be all right."
  • Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) said, "I believe in Bill Jefferson."
  • Rep. Donald Payne, (D-N.J.) said, "I'm behind him a thousand percent." Payne has contributed $3,000 to Jefferson's legal defense fund.
  • Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), said, "I'm going to let him have his day in court."
  • Several Democrats, however, told reporters off the record that they were not happy with the developments. [54]

On May 24, Sen. Pelosi also called on Jefferson to resign his post on the House Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson strongly refused to do so, citing his committee work to secure funds for the Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans district that he represents.[55]

On June 8, a House Democratic steering committee voted to recommend that Jefferson be temporarily removed of his seat on the committee. A vote by the full Democratic caucus was delayed, however, as a result of strong objections from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The chairman of the caucus, Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), stated that the group “opposes suggestions that some have made to force Rep. Jefferson to resign from Congress or to remove him involuntarily from his position on the Ways and Means Committee in the absence of precedents that have been historically applied and will be consistently applied in the future.” The CBC believed that no action should be taken until Jefferson's guilt or innocence was determined in court. [56]

According to a June 13 report by the Milwaukee Courier, Jefferson's support from the CBC leading up to the vote was not universal. Sources said that during a closed-door meeting of the 50-member Democratic Caucus Steering Committee on June 8, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) made a motion to have Jefferson stripped from his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. The sources also reported that former CBC Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) spoke against Jefferson in the committee meeting. In addition, they noted that Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), ranking member on the House Committee on Ways and Means, accepted a request from Pelosi to try and convince Jefferson to voluntarily forfeit his committee seat. The attempt, however, was unsuccessful.

On June 15, the Democratic Caucus finally voted 99-58 to have Jefferson removed from his seat on the committee. It is believed that Lewis and Rangel, and possibly Johnson, supported the measure.[57][58]

In September 2006, several former House leaders argued that the search of Jefferson’s Congressional office was unconstitutional. Former Speakers Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Tom Foley (D-Wash.), as well as former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.), submitted a notice with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stating that they would file an amicus brief arguing that the search was a violation of the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) was asked to join his three former colleagues, but declined to do so. [59]

Jefferson's district director subpoenaed

In April 2007, Jefferson's district director, Stephanie Butler, was subpoenaed to appear before a Virginia based grand jury.[1]

Capitol offices raid controversy

When FBI agents made their May 20, 2006, raid on Jefferson's Capitol Hill office they stayed for 17 hours collecting documents. This was the first time that the FBI had raided and searched a Congressional office. [60]

Jefferson refused to resign immediately after the raid and called it "outrageous" and a breach of the separation of powers. The raid soon attracted bipartisan rage as Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) stated, "My opinion is that they took the wrong path," and House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that he believed the case would wind up "across the street" at the Supreme Court.[61]

On May 24 the leaders of both parties called on the Justice Department to return the documents. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Speaker Hastert issued a joint statement:

The Justice Department was wrong to seize records from Congressman Jefferson’s office in violation of the Constitutional principle of Separation of Powers, the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution, and the practice of the last 219 years. These constitutional principles were not designed by the Founding Fathers to place anyone above the law. Rather, they were designed to protect the Congress and the American people from abuses of power, and those principles deserve to be vigorously defended.[62]

To defuse the stand-off between the Congress and the Justice Department President Bush ordered that the seized documents be sealed for 45 days while the justification of the raid is discussed in less heated terms.[63] Dennis Hastert stated on May 26th that he would put the dust up "in the past" and work to "set up guidelines for the FBI to review materials it seized from a lawmaker's office and any other searches of Congress' offices."[64] Jefferson still professed to believe that, ultimately, the documents would be returned to his office.[65]

On July 10, Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said that the FBI raid of Jefferson’s office was legal. Hogan therefore rejected requests from lawmakers and Jefferson to return material seized in the May 20-21 search. Jefferson had sought the return of several computer hard drives, floppy disks and two boxes of paper documents. In his 28-page decision, Hogan stated, "Congress' capacity to function effectively is not threatened by permitting congressional offices to be searched pursuant to validly issued search warrants." [66]

In March 2007, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stated that she would not file a motion objecting to the FBI raid on Rep. Jefferson unless Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) would join her. The motion, if it were to be filed, would be aimed at "protecting the prerogatives of the House" and preserving the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches. [67]

On May 15, 2007, Jefferson took his case before a Washington, D.C appeals court to get back documents that his lawyers said were wrongfully collected. Jefferson' lawyers expected to argue that the Constitution's Speech or Debate clause should have protected Jefferson from having his Congressional office searched, and argument that had bipartisan support in Congress. [2]

Status of seized documents

On July 19, 2006 a federal judge ruled that investigators could examine documents obtained in the raid Jefferson’s office. Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan argued that granting a requested delay “would harm the public's interest in a prompt and final outcome of the government's investigation of serious crimes involving a sitting United States congressman running for re-election in November.” [68]

On July 26, however, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the Justice Department from reviewing any of the documents confiscated from Jefferson’s office. The court cited a need for time to consider the congressman's legal challenge to the controversial raid. [69]

Following the hold, the three-judge panel of the court ordered the lower court to allow Jefferson to review the documents and records seized from his office. They stated that the lower court was wrong by not allowing Jefferson the chance to see the taken materials and make objections to them based on his rights from the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution. [70]

On November 15, 2006, a judge ruled that Jefferson's legal team must hand over any documents it was not claiming "speech or debate" privilege over. This raised the possibility of Jefferson being indicted before a judgment was reached regarding the legality of evidence obtained in the raid on his office. [71]

In May, 2007, Jefferson's attorneys argued in front of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the 19,000 pages of documents and electronic files seized should be returned to Jefferson. [3]

Following the June, 2007 indictment, the Justice Department said that it had obtained and investigated some but not all of the documents seized, and Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said that some of the documents "supported the charges" presented in the indictment. [4]

DOJ appeal aimed to overturn ruling protecting Jefferson's seized papers

In late September, 2007, the DOJ sought to overturn a D.C. Circuit appeals court decision that the FBI raid on Rep. Jefferson's office violated the Speech and Debate clause of the Constitution. The appeals court judges had found that the FBI investigation had exposed legislative material to the executive branch, violating the clause which aimed to maintain separation of powers.[5]

The Department of Justice lawyers argued that the decision created a “novel, absolute ‘non-disclosure privilege’” for legislative material. They further explained that the investigation was not targeting legislative material, as the search warrant only aimed to investigate materials “outside the legislative sphere.”[5]

The lawyers wrote, “This unprecedented expansion of the clause has not only delayed the instant investigation…it also threatens to complicate numerous ongoing and future and future investigations by inviting litigation over routine techniques employed by federal agents."[5]

Supreme Court declines to hear DOJ appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2008 declined to consider the Department of Justice appeal regarding the FBI raid on Jefferson's office. The decision might make it harder for law enforcement officials to investigate members of Congress. [6]

Indictment and political fallout

On June 4, 2007, Jefferson was indicted on charges that he accepted bribes to promote high-tech business ventures in Africa. [7] The 95-page indictment charges Jefferson with 16 violations of federal law, including racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Prison terms for the offenses total as much as 235 years. The indictment does not mention Nigerian Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, although it does refer to an unnamed "Nigerian Official A," a high-ranking Nigerian executive.[8]

Following the indictment, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee decided to meet to vote on Jefferson's committee assignments amid calls for his resignation from Congress.[9] On June 5, 2007, Jefferson announced that he was taking "temporary leave" from the House Small Business Committee. After stepping down from the Small Business Committee Jefferson was without any committee postings, as he had previously been removed from the House Ways and Means Committee following the May, 2006 raid on his Capitol Hill office.[10]

Company implicated in indictment won $450,000 government grant

On October 4th, public records were reported in The Hill that showed TDC Overseas Limited had received a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). Federal prosecutors had earlier alleged in Jefferson's indictment he had been influencing the USTDA to approve the application of a "Company G" for a grant to fund a "feasibility study related to the development of a fertilizer plant in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria" in May 2002. TDC was not itself named in the indictment, but two of its officials had been named as Jefferson co-conspirators and the company had sought and received the $450,000 grant in 2002 to develop a fertilizer plant in Akwa Ibom State. TDC was also named in requests for information requests from the FBI to the Nigerian government, according to African press reports. [11]

Prosecutors allege that "Company G" agreed to make payments to a member of Jefferson's family. The TDC executives named by prosecutors, John Melton and Ramon Jarrell, both contributed $500 to Jefferson's campaign committee on the same day in August 2003. TDC also helped pay for a $16,000, eight-day trip by Jefferson to Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria in February 2003. Jefferson has said the trip was for "review of US Trade + Development Agency (TDA) projects/briefing on Nigeria elections." In return for the payments to his family member, prosecutors say Jefferson had a staffer track the USTDA application, attended meetings with USTDA officials and persuaded a senior African official to back the fertilizer project. [12]

A second Nigerian company implicated by prosecutors in Jefferson's case, Arkel Sugar, Inc., had also received a USTDA grant in 2002. The $288,645 grant for a feasibility study of the Ogun State Sugar Factory, but Jefferson's indictment describes a scheme with the company to win a Nigerian sugar factory grant from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. [13]

The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that Export-Import bank officials have stated that funding a sugar plant in Nigeria for Arkel sugar was discussed at meetings attended by Jefferson on February 13 and May 1, 2001, the same days the indictment says Jefferson or one of his staffers met with the president of a "Company E" and Export-Import bank officials to discuss financing for a sugar plant. The indictment says Jefferson also helped the company get an $8 million contract with a Nigerian sugar company. [14]

In return, the indictment says the company's executives agreed to give a separate company associated with Jefferson a commission fee and later made a $21,350 payment to one of Jefferson's family members. George Knost, an executive with Arkel International (which shares an address with Arket Sugar), has also been named by federal prosecutors as a co-conspirator in the Jefferson case. He has donated $3,500 to Jefferson's campaign since 2001. [15]

In September, Jefferson's lawyers sought the dismissal of the conspiracy charges against him, which were related to the alleged plot with USTDA. Jefferson's lawyers argued that the charges were brought by prosecutors only in an effort to exclude black jurors from the jury by locating the trial in Alexandria, Virginia, the home of USTDA headquarters. [16]

House Ethics Committee investigation

Following Jefferson's indictment, both Republicans and Democrats moved to initiate formal House Ethics Committee investigations into the charges against Jefferson. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) attempted to embarrass Democrats by offering a resolution to investigate Jefferson before the Democratic leadership and ethics committee took action. The Boehner measure called specifically for investigating Rep. Jefferson and whether Jefferson should be removed from the House. In an effort to minimize the impact of Republican efforts to spearhead the corruption investigation, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered a resolution ordering the ethics committee to investigate any member arrested or indicted on criminal charges.[17]

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) responded in support of Jefferson against the House investigation, claiming it could unjustly influence any future trial. CBC Chair, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), stated, "We trust the merits of the case against Congressman Jefferson will be examined in a court of law instead of the chambers of public opinion."[18]

Jefferson's assets frozen

On June 7, 2007, a federal judge ordered Jefferson's assets frozen as a result of a forfeiture charge, one of 16 criminal counts Jefferson faces following his indictment.[19]

Jefferson pleads not guilty

On June 8, 2007, following his indictment and the initiation of a formal House Ethics Committee investigation into all allegations against Jefferson, Jefferson pleaded not guilty to the 11 bribery schemes and 16 criminal charges filed against him.[20]

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin referenced in Jefferson indictment

The Jefferson indictment asserts that in mid-2002 Jefferson introduced Jackson to a "prominent member" of the House Energy and Commerce telecommunications subcommittee, after which the member sent a letter praising iGate's technology to its chairman, Jackson. On June 11, 2007, it was revealed that the unnamed representative was former House Energy and Commerce Committee Billy Tauzin.[21]

Jefferson reveals loan to Vernon Jackson

On June 14, 2007, as the 2006 financial statements of all the members of Congress were revealed, so was Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) loan to Vernon Jackson, who was a Kentucky businessman and campaign contributor, imprisoned for bribing Jackson. According to Kentucky media reports, Jefferson revealed the loan to the FBI in 2005, though it was not made public. [22]

Ethics investigation put on hold

In early August, 2007, the investigative subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee suspended its investigation into Jefferson after the Department of Justice expressed concerns that the committee's investigation might interfere with the F.B.I.'s criminal investigation. More specifically, the committee agreed to temporarily cease the interview and deposition of witnesses, but said it would continue to monitor the F.B.I's investigation.[23]

Mody complains to police

On August 28, 2006, Lori Mody told police that "things have been happening" since she first went to the FBI with the complaint that led to the probe of Jefferson. Among the problems she has been having, her toilet malfunctioned between July 21 and July 24, sending water "everywhere." [72]

Two more allegations

On November 16, 2007, federal prosecutors, detailed in a seven-page document filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, accused Jefferson of soliciting bribes in two alleged schemes not previously disclosed. Prosecutors said the allegations would not result in new charges, but they planned to present them during Jefferson’s federal bribery trial as evidence of a pattern of intentional wrongdoing.[24]

Court date set

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis set Jefferson's corruption case for February 25, 2007, granting Jefferson's lawyer's request for a continuance with an extra six weeks. However, that fell short of the four months Jefferson sought.[25]

Pre-trial testimony

Jefferson testified in open court for the first time January 17, 2008 in the wide-ranging corruption case against him, and challenged the FBI’s account of its 2005 raid on his New Orleans home. Jefferson argued that he was coerced and was not read his Miranda rights during an early-morning interview that preceded the Aug. 3, 2005, raid. The testimony took place at a pre-trial hearing in Alexandria, Va., in which Jefferson was trying to suppress evidence collected during the FBI search.[26]

The lawmaker claimed the FBI used intimidating tactics, noting that an agent followed him, prevented him from closing the bathroom door and watched him while he was in the bathroom. The prosecution attempted to show that Jefferson was treated fairly during the interview and subsequent raid and that there was no effort to limit the lawmaker’s movements. Prosecutors emphasized that the agents did not wear bullet-proof vests or brandish weapons and spoke with Jefferson in a cordial manner.[26]

Aides subpoenaed

The Department of Justice subpoenaed six current and former House aides to testify in next month’s trial of Rep. William Jefferson. The DoJ subpoenaed three current House aides, as well as three former employees of Jefferson, who faces a wide array of public corruption and bribery charges.[27]

Repaying a witness

As his legal troubles mounted last year, Jefferson began to pay off a loan to an executive of a Maryland-based global satellite company who was cooperating with prosecutors and could potentially testify against him.

Noah Samara, CEO of Worldspace Inc., made a personal loan of between $50,000 and $100,000 to Jefferson in 2001. However, while repaying a loan is not inherently odd, ethics experts say Jefferson's decision to repay this particular loan certainly stands out.[28]

“He's repaying a loan to somebody who could testify in his case, so that represents an awkward appearance,” said ethics lawyer Jan Baran. The Samara loan is the only debt Jefferson seems to have paid down last year, as his legal bills have piled up and contributions to his legal defense fund have slowed to a trickle.[28]

Court documents filed early this year provided details about Samara's interactions with Jefferson. Samara signed a contract with Jefferson's wife, Andrea, on behalf of her ANJ Group in 2002 in exchange for help getting satellite transmission services in three African nations. Samara, according to the Justice Department, told investigators that Jefferson had pressured him to sign the contract with Andrea Jefferson and that he believed it was a bribe solicitation.[28]

Jefferson faces trial on a complicated array of corruption charges related to the promotion of a variety of business ventures in West Africa. The trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 2, but that date will likely get delayed until next year, the judge in the case said last week.[28]

Judge Rejects Plea to Drop Racketeering Charges

On August 14th, 2008, U.S. district judge T.S. Ellis III rejected two lines of argument offered by Jefferson's lawyers. The defense had argued that there is no legal ground for the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization (RICO) charge being brought against the Representative because the prosecution had failed to show a connection between several of Jefferson's alleged schemes. Jefferson's legal team also argued that his congressional office could not be charged under the RICO Act because doing so would undermine the constitutional principle of separation of powers. Judge Ellis disagreed with both lines of argument, holding that the prosecution had adequately made the case for the RICO charge and that the separation of powers argument had already "been compellingly rejected by other courts."[29] [30]


Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

Sources

  1. Susan Crabtree and Mike Soraghan, "Jefferson’s district director subpoenaed" The Hill, April 18, 2007.
  2. Laura McGann, "But, The Law Protects Congressmen From The Law," TPMmuckraker, May 15, 2007.
  3. "Congressman Jefferson Asks Court to Order Return of Documents Seized From His Office," the Associated Press accessed via FoxNews.com, May 15, 2007.
  4. Lara Jakes Jordan and Matthew Barakat, "Rep. Jefferson Indicted in Bribery Probe", the Associated Press accessed via the San Francisco Chronicle, June 4, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Susan Crabtree, "DOJ appeal reopens battle over Jefferson raid," The Hill, September 21, 2007.
  6. Susan Crabtree, "Supreme Court denies DoJ appeal in Jefferson case," The Hill, March 31, 2008.
  7. Jerry Markon and Allan Lengel, "Indictment Sought Against Rep. Jefferson," Washington Post, June 4, 2007.
  8. Lara Jakes Jordan, "Jury Indicts Jefferson in Bribery Probe," The Associated Press accessed via the Washington Post, June 4, 2007.
  9. Jonathan E. Kaplan, "Jefferson indicted for corruption," The Hill, June 5, 2007.
  10. Mike Soraghan, "Jefferson resigns from Small Business Committee," The Hill, June 5, 2007.
  11. Kevin Bogardus and Susan Crabtree, “Firm tangled in Jefferson case received $450,000,” ‘’The Hill’’, October 4, 2007.
  12. Kevin Bogardus and Susan Crabtree, “Firm tangled in Jefferson case received $450,000,” ‘’The Hill’’, October 4, 2007.
  13. Kevin Bogardus and Susan Crabtree, “Firm tangled in Jefferson case received $450,000,” ‘’The Hill’’, October 4, 2007.
  14. Kevin Bogardus and Susan Crabtree, “Firm tangled in Jefferson case received $450,000,” ‘’The Hill’’, October 4, 2007.
  15. Kevin Bogardus and Susan Crabtree, “Firm tangled in Jefferson case received $450,000,” ‘’The Hill’’, October 4, 2007.
  16. Kevin Bogardus and Susan Crabtree, “Firm tangled in Jefferson case received $450,000,” ‘’The Hill’’, October 4, 2007.
  17. Mike Soraghan, "Jefferson indictment sparks House ethics feud," The Hill, June 5, 2007.
  18. Jonathan E. Kaplan, "CBC digs in for Jefferson" The Hill, June 7, 2007.
  19. "Judge freezes assets of Louisiana congressman charged with soliciting bribes" Associated Press accessed via International Herald Tribune, June 7, 2007.
  20. "Congressman Pleads Not Guilty to Bribery," AP accessed via The New York Times, June 8, 2007.
  21. Rachel Van Dongen, "Former Rep. Tauzin Referenced in Jefferson Indictment," Roll Call, June 11, 2007.
  22. Elana Schor, "Jefferson reveals loan," The Hill, June 15, 2007.
  23. Susan Davis. "Ethics Suspends Jefferson Probe at DOJ's Request," Roll Call. August 6, 2007.
  24. Allan Lengel, "Jefferson Accused of Two More Schemes," The Washington Post, November 18, 2007.
  25. Mike Soraghan, "Jefferson court date moved to Feb. 25," The Hill, December 14, 2007.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Susan Crabtree, "Jefferson takes the stand," The Hill, January 18, 2008.
  27. Susan Crabtree, "Six staffers subpoenaed for Jefferson trial," The Hill, January 25, 2008.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 Susan Crabtree, "Jefferson pays back a witness," The Hill, June 16, 2008.
  29. Susan Crabtree, "Judge rejects Jefferson's plea," The Hill, August 14, 2008.
  30. Kris Alingod, "Judge Rejects Rep. Jefferson's Motion To Dismiss Racketeering Charges," AHN, August 14, 2008.

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