The William Jefferson Chronicles

Closing arguments completed in Mose Jefferson trial
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Thursday August 20, 2009, 2:00 AM

Lawyers for both sides in Mose Jefferson's bribery trial finished closing arguments this afternoon, with U.S. Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon expected to give jurors her charging instructions after a lunch break.

The jury, which is made up of six men and six women, will then begin deliberations.

Jefferson is accused of bribing former Orleans School Board president Ellenese Brooks-Simms in exchange for her support for an algebra curriculum he was selling. He spent the bulk of the last two days on the witness stand, enduring a withering cross-examination from federal prosecutors Wednesday afternoon.

The trial opened this morning with Jefferson wrapping up his testimony by taking a series of follow-up questions from his attorney, Mike Fawer.

It is undisputed in the case that Jefferson paid Brooks-Simms $140,000 through a series of straw payees. Brooks-Simms has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and characterized the payments as bribes, while Jefferson sought to portray the payments as gifts given to an old friend and former lover.

"If it was a gift, she wouldn't have pleaded guilty to it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone told jurors. "This case is about payoffs and rewards."

But Fawer exhorted jurors to find his client not guilty, saying the federal prosecutors hadn't come close to proving their burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. "I don't think they come close," he said.

Fawer emphasized, as he has throughout the trial, that the vote approving the contracts for the algebra program were all unanimous.

The program, he said, was brought to New Orleans by the then-Superintendent Tony Amato. Mose Jefferson didn't need to bribe Brooks-Simms because the contract was already going to speed through the system, he argued.

On Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors sought to poke holes in that story, questioning why, if the money was simply an innocent gift, the checks were paid to alternate payees.

During a brief redirect questioning, Fawer asked Mose whether he ever gave Brooks-Simms for "anything in exchange for her vote." "Never," Jefferson replied.

"Did you ever make a kickback?" he asked. "Never," Jefferson replied.

Talk in the court centered on whether federal prosecutors would call back Brooks-Simms as a rebuttal witness, particularly to address Jefferson's statement that they had a romantic relationship for a several year period in the 1980s.

Brooks-Simms was married for at least 40 years. Her husband, Melvin Simms, died less than two months ago. Her attorney, Ralph Capitelli, called the assertion of an affair a lie.

But after Fawer finished questioning his client, the team of three prosecutors huddled and told Lemmon that they would not bring any witnesses back.

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