The William Jefferson Chronicles

Archie Jefferson: read his pitch to São Tomé
Posted on Wednesday, June 28, 2006.
By Ken Silverstein.

Last week I wrote about how, several years ago, Archie Jefferson of New Orleans had written a letter to a senior government official in oil-rich São Tomé pitching a series of business deals in the island nation. Archie is the brother of William Jefferson, the congressman currently under investigation by the FBI for allegedly taking bribes from a businessman whose ventures he backed in Nigeria.

The letter was previously described to me by a source who had seen it. My source believed the letter was written in early 2002, and he did not recall Archie mentioning Congressman Jefferson in making his pitch to the São Toméan official. I've now reviewed a copy of the letter myself, and while the source was largely correct in his description of it, those two statements were wrong. Overall, the contents of the letter are far more alarming than I had reported earlier.

Before getting to the letter, here's the relevant background information:

In addition to the charges involving Nigeria, court records show that the FBI is also looking into “at least seven other schemes in which [Congressman] Jefferson sought things of value in return for his official acts.” It appears that the FBI is also exploring Jefferson's activities in São Tomé, where the congressman had close ties. He traveled to the country in 2000 and met with São Toméan President Fradique de Menezes at least four times between 2002 and 2003.

Archie, an attorney, has had a number of run-ins with the law involving drugs, bad checks, and other matters. In 2004, the Louisiana Supreme Court permanently disbarred him, citing “indisputable evidence of a fundamental lack of moral character and fitness.” He has also done business over the years with various members of Congressman Jefferson's family and staff.

The letter of Archie's that I reviewed was undated, but it was sent to Guilherme Posser da Costa (then prime minister of São Tomé), and was apparently written during summer of 2001. “In response to a previous discussion with Congressman William Jefferson,” the letter began (emphasis added), “The Jefferson Group, LLC, in conjunction with 'The Advisory Group (TAG)', is prepared to sign a memorandum of understanding to develop the logistical and port facilities.”

As part of the agreement, the letter continued, the investors in the project expected to “share revenues generated from the operation of the port facility” and to receive “ownership of at least one [oil field] in an area of production belonging to São Tomé.” The Jefferson Group also asked for the right to “construct and operate a free zone with revenue sharing,” and the opportunity to “develop, operate or otherwise establish” enterprises in fields such as banking, telecommunications, and import/export.

Archie told the prime minister that if a final deal was reached, representatives of The Jefferson Group would make a “due diligence” visit to the country and would be prepared to deposit $50 million towards construction of the port facility. “We are requesting a timely response from you and look forward to meeting with you in São Tomé very soon,” the letter said in closing.

I'm not sure what reply Archie received in response to his proposal, but it certainly appears that he sought to use Congressman Jefferson's name, with the latter's apparent knowledge and approval, to further his private business interests. And it's also curious that in January of 2002, several months after Archie wrote his letter, Congressman Jefferson's long-time district manager in New Orleans, Stephanie Edwards Butler, became the manager of two new New Orleans–based companies, Providence International Petroleum Company and Providence International Construction Company.

The registered agent for the two firms was Jack Swetland, an accountant who has long handled Jefferson's campaign and business finances. Swetland's New Orleans office and home were raided by the FBI in August of 2005, at the same time that the feds found $90,000 in a freezer at Jefferson's home.

One final item: Archie's letter to the prime minister was sent from the following e-mail address: I'd be grateful if anyone out there can tell me who used that e-mail address. I wonder if the address might have belonged to Noreen Wilson (or an associate), who was deeply involved with a small Houston-based oil company called ERHC, which has a big stake in Sao Tome's oil fields. Wilson and various associates have made past campaign contributions to Jefferson, and the congressman appears to have advocated on the company's behalf with São Tomé officials. Wilson did not return a phone call and no one replied to an email I sent to the address, which is apparently no longer active.

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