|Blanco releases copies of federal subpoena|
Probe targets charities with Jefferson links
Thursday, November 23, 2006
By Robert Travis Scott - NOLA.com
BATON ROUGE -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco's office released copies Wednesday of a federal subpoena that required her administration to turn over a series of documents related to four charities with ties to the family of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson.
Blanco had issued a statement Tuesday saying that her office had complied fully with the subpoena, which requested that certain materials be returned to a New Orleans grand jury by Nov. 16. But the governor initially declined to release the subpoena itself, saying only that federal prosecutors had sought documents in the possession of the former Office of Urban Affairs, an arm of the executive branch that was abolished earlier this year.
Blanco spokeswoman Marie Centanni said Wednesday that the governor's office decided to release the subpoena only after receiving assurances from federal prosecutors that doing so would not affect the investigation. Centanni would not specify what records were turned over to investigators, although she said most of the documents were from 2001 or later because the state generally does not keep records for longer than five years.
Blanco's release of the subpoena made clear that investigators' focus is on four charities with close ties to the Jefferson family: Care Unlimited Inc., Orleans Metropolitan Housing and Community Development Inc., Central City Adult Education Agency and New Orleans Drug Education Intervention.
All told, the groups have received more than $7 million in funding from the state earmarked by either state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, the congressman's daughter, or former state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt, the congressman's former legislative aide.
Betty Jefferson, a city assessor and a sister of the congressman, was director of Central City Adult Education, while Mose Jefferson, a brother of the congressman, served on the board of Orleans Metropolitan Housing.
Mose Jefferson also received use of a $30,000 pickup truck that had been donated by DaimlerChrysler to the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Gill Pratt, his longtime companion and at the time a member of the City Council, had the city donate the vehicle to Jefferson's charity.
Gill Pratt also steered two vehicles to Care Unlimited, which hired her after she lost a bid for re-election in May. The charity then gave her use of one of the cars.
A fifth nonprofit, Central City Housing Development Corp., also is listed on the FBI subpoena, though it has no obvious ties to the Jefferson family. The organization has received little state money, and none of it appears to have come courtesy of a Jefferson ally.
Before it was abolished, the Office of Urban Affairs was in charge of overseeing grants to nonprofit agencies in the districts of black lawmakers. Critics denounced the grant program -- and a parallel one for rural districts -- as a legislative "slush fund" that governors used as leverage over lawmakers.
In July, James Bernazzani, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans field office, announced he would investigate two of the charities, Care Unlimited and Orleans Metropolitan Housing. The agencies attracted attention after news broke about the possible misuse of the vehicles donated by DaimlerChrysler.
The following month, Blanco used her line-item veto authority to zero out $450,000 that had been earmarked in this year's state budget for the two groups. It is not clear which of them, if any, is still in operation.
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Robert Travis Scott may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (225) 342-4197. Gordon Russell may be reached at email@example.com or at (504) 826-3347.