Ex-aide expected wealth through former congressman William Jefferson
by Jonathan Tilove
and Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday June 30, 2009, 10:06 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- A former aide to U.S. Rep. William Jefferson testified Tuesday that he was confident his old boss had the influence with Nigerian leaders and the U.S. Export-Import Bank to seal a deal that would make the aide and his new boss, Lori Mody, hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I thought the deal is going through and I'm going to be wealthy and Lori is going to be even more wealthy, " said Brett Pfeffer, recalling his elation when the deal between iGate, a small Kentucky communications firm, and Mody's Win2 investment company, where Pfeffer was president, was inked in July 2004.
But Pfeffer testified that on a plane ride to New Orleans to meet with Jefferson the next month, he warned Mody "not to be surprised if the congressman asks for something" in return for his help.
It was just a "gut feeling, " said Pfeffer, who testified that he soon learned that the nine-term Democratic congressman wanted his family to get 5 percent to 7 percent of the new Nigerian company Mody was forming to exercise distribution rights for iGate's broadband technology in Nigeria. Jefferson also wanted Mody to put his brother Archie on her payroll for $2,500 to $5,000 a month.
"I knew what he was asking for was wrong and illegal, but I knew we were going to make a lot of money and we couldn't do it without the congressman, " Pfeffer told prosecutors.
But in vigorous cross-examination, defense attorney Amy Jackson asked Pfeffer whether it wasn't true that it was his idea to cut Jefferson into the deal, telling Jefferson, "You should have a piece of this, boss."
Pfeffer denied that.
Doing eight years
In May 2006, in the same courtroom, with the same judge, T.S. Ellis III, presiding, Pfeffer was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to bribe Jefferson. He has served 28 months and hopes to have his sentence reduced by testifying against the man he worked for.
Jefferson is accused in a 16-count federal indictment of using his office to solicit bribes from Mody and others for his help in arranging business deals in western Africa. Jefferson's wife and daughters set up a consulting company, ANJ Group, which prosecutors say was nothing but a front to collect money Jefferson demanded in exchange for using his influence as a member of Congress.
Jefferson has pleaded innocent, saying he was acting as a private businessman and therefore not covered by the bribery statutes.
Tuesday's testimony was studded with revelations.
'My friend Jack Abramoff'
Pfeffer described how Jefferson chewed him out after he talked about the details of a deal in Ghana within earshot of their driver. Pfeffer later apologized, and he said Jefferson warned him to be careful about what he said and wrote, because "that's how my friend Jack Abramoff got in trouble, for stuff in e-mails."
The jury also heard a taped segment of a four-hour dinner Pfeffer, Jefferson and Mody had at The Capital Grille in Washington, D.C., on April 12, 2005. Mody, by then a cooperating witness for the FBI, secretly recorded the dinner discussion.
"I'm gonna get your deal out of the way, and I probably won't last long after that, " Jefferson said, according to previously released transcripts. On Tuesday, it became apparent that when he said that, Jefferson was contemplating leaving Congress. He thought he had been a contender to be named U.S. trade representative by President George W. Bush and that he was considering going to work, for a salary and a piece of the action, finding business deals for Robert Johnson, the multibillionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television.
According to his last House financial disclosure form, filed in February, Jefferson owed Johnson between $100,000 and $250,000 in loans.
Pfeffer also described his "volatile" relationship with Mody, whom he had described to Jefferson as "crazy." He said she had fired him a few times and only brought him back in after, as he learned too late, she was wearing the wire that, as the prosecutor put it, "sealed your fate."
Jefferson hired Pfeffer, an Air Force veteran, as a legislative assistant on military affairs in 1995. After three years, he left to start a business development firm, based only on "a pretty good Rolodex."
Through charity work, Pfeffer met Mody, a Northern Virginia businesswoman with money to invest, and she made him president of WIN2 -- a job for which he said he was "not qualified" -- with a $700,000 annual salary and half the profits on deals they found after she recouped her investment plus 8 percent.
Pfeffer said he was living "way beyond my means" with a big house, a Ferrari, Lexus SUV, Range Rover and a Mercedes SL500.
"I was trying to show people I was dealing with that I was as successful as they were, " he said.
"Fake it till you make it, " said Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Duross.
"Exactly, " Pfeffer said.
Jefferson's daughter hired
In June 2004, Pfeffer told Jefferson about Mody, and the congressman recommended iGate as an investment and arranged a meeting with Mody and Pfeffer in which he urged them to move fast because Texas investors were keen on the opportunity.
By July a deal was struck, even though Pfeffer said he knew nothing about telecommunications or Nigeria or the workings of the Export-Import Bank, which would have to agree to finance 85 percent of the $44.9 million deal to make it happen. He testified he was relying entirely on Jefferson.
He also followed Jefferson's advice to hire his daughter, Jamila, an attorney at Jones Walker in New Orleans, to help incorporate their Nigerian company, unaware the family had an interest in iGate.
Tuesday began with Jefferson's former accountant and campaign treasurer Jack Swetland completing his time on the stand. He told prosecutors that he thought it was unusual that ANJ had virtually no expenses, and then moments later told defense attorney Robert Trout that he didn't think it unusual.
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Jonathan Tilove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7827.
Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7861.