FBI raids Jefferson office in D.C.
Lawmaker's attorney 'dismayed' by
Sunday, May 21, 2006
By Bruce Alpert
and Bill Walsh Washington bureau
WASHINGTON With prosecutors said to be nearing a decision on whether to indict the eight-term New Orleans Democrat, FBI agents searched the Capitol Hill office of Rep. William Jefferson on Saturday night as part of an ongoing public corruption probe.
An FBI spokeswoman said the agents entered the Rayburn House Office Building about 6:15 p.m. Central Time. She would not say what the agents were looking for, but said they were acting under a sealed search warrant.
It is extremely rare for the FBI to raid the office of a sitting congressman, which indicates that the Justice Department must have given a judge a fairly specific reason why a piece of evidence, or a document, could be obtained only by going to his office, according to a lawyer familiar with the case.
An attorney for Jefferson deplored the raid.
"The government's actions in obtaining a search warrant to search the offices of a United States Congressman were outrageous," Jefferson's attorney Robert Trout said in a statement issued late Saturday. "There were no exigent circumstances necessitating this action. The government knew that the documents were being appropriately preserved while proper procedures were being followed. We are dismayed by this action. The documents weren't going anywhere and the prosecutors knew it."
Homes raided earlier
In August, FBI agents left with boxes of material, including cash, from Jefferson's New Orleans home. At the same time, agents raided his car; his Washington home; the Maryland home of the vice president of Nigeria; and the Louisville, Ky., offices of iGate Inc.
Earlier this month, Vernon L. Jackson, the CEO of iGate, became the second person to plead guilty in what the government said was a scheme to bribe Jefferson to help iGate get lucrative Internet and cable television contracts in Africa.
Jefferson spokeswoman Melanie Roussell had no comment Saturday night. A message left at Jefferson's New Orleans home was not returned.
Usually, House office buildings are open around the clock to Capitol staff and news reporters. But access to the building was blocked, and even entry to the building's underground garage was not possible Saturday night.
Parked along the Rayburn Office Building's horseshoe driveway were three black minivans and a black sport utility vehicle.
About 9 p.m., an agent walked out of the Rayburn Office Building, took an empty box out of one of the FBI vans, and then re-entered the building with the box.
Grand jury at work
The question of whether to indict Jefferson will be up to a Virginia grand jury which has been hearing evidence in the case. The government had said it hoped to wrap up the case by early June.
The case apparently started when an investor in the iGate project, Virginia multimillionaire Lori Mody, went to federal agents to complain that Jefferson was demanding jobs and money in return for his help with the project. She secretly recorded phone conversations with Jefferson and wore a wire during some meetings with the congressman, according to information recently presented to a federal magistrate who was considering whether to make previous search warrants in the case public.
Jackson said that he had provided a company controlled by Jefferson's wife and children over $400,000 in return for the congressman's help with the African telecommunications deals.
If nothing else, the high-profile raid of his office seems intended, at least in part, to put pressure on the congressman to plead guilty.
Jefferson, in a news conference last week, emphatically rejected any sort of guilty plea because he said he had not committed a crime.
"I want to say emphatically that in all of my actions that are here under scrutiny, that I have never intended to dishonor my office or you, the public, and I certainly did not sell my office," Jefferson said. He insisted that he has never sought anything for himself or his family in return for performing the duties of a congressman.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7861.