Attorney says former Rep. William Jefferson 'not guilty'
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday June 16, 2009, 2:09 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- Former U.S Rep. William Jefferson is "not guilty of any of these charges" alleged by the federal government, his attorney said today.
Robert Trout used his opening statement to suggest that cooperating witness Lori Mody, with encouragement from the FBI, pushed to get Jefferson more involved in her business, saying she would have "more confidence" if he was part of the dealings.
Trout said Jefferson sometimes told Mody what she wanted to hear, not necessarily the truth. He told jurors that Jefferson may have acted unethically, but not illegally.
The 16-count indictment against Jefferson accuses him of engaging in bribery, racketeering, money laundering and other crimes by using his influence as a member of Congress to broker business deals in Africa. Jefferson has pleaded innocent.
Testimony began this afternoon as federal prosecutors called former iGate CEO Vernon Jackson to the stand. It was Jackson's broadband technology that Jefferson was helping to push for contracts in western Africa.
Jackson has pleaded guilty to bribery charges in the case and is serving a seven-year, three-month sentence in prison.
Earlier in the day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle said Jefferson fully intended to deliver a $100,000 bribe to the Maryland home of the vice president of Nigeria in July 2005, but bad timing pre-empted the exchange and prompted Jefferson to stash most of the cash in his freezer, the government's chief prosecutor said today.
Lytle told a packed court room that the former Democratic congressman from New Orleans became involved in various illegal schemes as he tried to deal with mounting personal debts.
He said Jefferson and his wife, Andrea, owed $62,000 on credit cards at one point and had 70 overdrafts of their bank accounts, along with the accompanying penalties and interest payments.
But instead of choosing an honest way to meet his obligations, Lytle said, Jefferson "chose corruption."
Trout said the fact that $90,000 was found at Jefferson's home shows that the congressman did not use it as a bribe. He noted that $5,000 was accounted for in a loan to a Jefferson staffer and that the remaining $5,000 was returned to the government.
Lytle's explanation of the "cold cash" recovered by FBI agents in a raid of Jefferson's home goes to what some had seen as a possible weakness in the federal case, the fact that the marked money had never been delivered to then-Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar, meaning that the former congressman was not using it as a bribe.
Lytle said the prosecution will show that Abubaker was in the process of leaving the country and that Jefferson was unable to deliver the payment when he first intended.
The money was given to Jefferson by Mody, who became a cooperating witness for the government after complaining to the FBI that Jefferson was trying to defraud her.
Lytle confirmed to the jury that he did no plan to call Mody as a witness in the trial, but said the many tapes of conversations between her and Jefferson "will put you in the room with Lori Mody and the congressman."
He said the tapes will show a relationship with Jefferson as the "teacher" and Mody as the student and the course is "lessons in crime." He called the impact of the tapes, "Simply stunning."
A jury of eight women and four men was seated for the trial last week. Judge T.S. Ellis III has said he expects the trial to last four to six weeks.
Jefferson served nine terms in Congress representing the New Orleans-based 2nd Congressional District before being defeated last December by Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao.
Jefferson's defense team is expected to argue that what the government describes as schemes were private business dealings between Jefferson and others and not subject to the federal bribery statutes. They also are expected to attack Mody's credibility and motives in helping the government with its surveillance.