|Ex-congressman William Jefferson's corruption case spurs flurry of motions|
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday March 24, 2009, 7:34 AM
WASHINGTON - In a series of pre-trial motions for the upcoming corruption trial of former Rep. William Jefferson, the Justice Department is asking permission to show the jury a copy of the government's indictment while Jefferson's lawyers want some government evidence excluded for fear it would "prejudice" jurors.
The briefs were filed Monday and late last week in advance of the May 26 trial in which the New Orleans Democrat faces 16 counts of bribery, racketeering, conspiracy and other charges. If convicted on all or most of the charges, he could spend the rest of his life in federal prison.
In its filing, Justice Department prosecutor Mark Lytle said that unlike in many cases, where there's a one or two transactions at issue, the charges against Jefferson involve "16 distinct counts alleging various public corruption schemes, detailing fact-specific payment dates, invoices, communications, contracts, negotiation notes, travel correspondent and instructions to congressional (staffers), among other items."
11 schemes alleged
In all, the Justice Department said it has evidence of 11 separate schemes in which Jefferson sought, and in some cases received, payments to family-owned businesses in return for his help with business transactions in western Africa. Having a copy of the indictment, the Justice Department said, would help the jury better understand the complex case.
Jefferson's legal team, led by Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Trout, said the government shouldn't be allowed to present evidence that Jefferson sought payments to promote business projects in several African nations because, even if true -- and Jefferson "disputes many of the factual allegations" -- the accusations don't have anything to do with "any U.S. government decision" and therefore don't constitute bribery.
The evidence, including testimony by some of the business executives the Justice Department said were involved in the alleged schemes, "gives rise to the danger that Mr. Jefferson would be convicted for conduct that does not constitute a crime, " according to Jefferson's lawyers.
Letter to Nigerian president
In its filing, the Justice Department submitted a 2004 letter, parts of which were previously released by Nigerian officials, from Jefferson to the African nation's then president, Olusegun Obasanjo. In it, Jefferson denies accusations by two Nigerian businessmen that he was engaged in illegal activity to advance a Kentucky firm's telecommunications technology.
"I have been careful to avoid conflicts and shady dealings, " Jefferson wrote Obasanjo. "As a result, in my nearly 30 years of encouraging and working with U.S. businesses throughout Africa, and working with African leaders and business people, my name has not been associated with even a hint of a scandal in Africa or anywhere in the world. I would never disgrace my relationship with you or my good family name through dishonesty or scandal in Nigeria, nor elsewhere."
In the letter, Jefferson wrote that he "introduced the parties to the U.S. Export-Import Bank officials in Washington" -- a document the government plans to use to establish that Jefferson was using his congressional office to advance projects for which he asked to be compensated.
Definition of bribery
Large portions of the latest filings to Judge Ellis deal with whether the payments allegedly demanded by Jefferson constitute violations of the federal bribery statute.
In its filing, the Justice Department says that Jefferson is wrong to claim the crime requires a specific decision related to his official duties -- such as voting or introducing a bill. It asks Judge Ellis to clarify an earlier ruling on how he would instruct the jury on the definition of bribery.
Jefferson's lawyers said it's so clear Jefferson didn't perform any official acts in return for the payments the Justice Department alleges he sought that the judge ought to throw out the bribery related charges, something Ellis previously has refused to do.
Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7861.