The William Jefferson Chronicles

Federal judge refuses to immediately delay or move Mose Jefferson bribery trial
by Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press
Saturday August 08, 2009, 2:02 PM

A federal judge has rejected arguments that the recent bribery trial and conviction of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson make it impossible for his brother to get a fair trial in New Orleans.

Mose Jefferson, the congressman's eldest brother and hub of the family political machine, is scheduled for trial Monday, accused of bribing a New Orleans school board president for her support in awarding school contracts to a computer-based math teaching system he helped sell.

Jefferson faces three counts of bribery, two of obstructing justice and one each of conspiracy and money laundering; they carry total maximum sentences of 65 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines.

Ellenese Brooks-Simms, no longer on the board, pleaded guilty without indictment in June 2007 to one conspiracy count carrying up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Her sentencing is currently scheduled for Nov. 19.

Examining prospective jurors "will reveal the extent of prejudice, if any, resulting from media coverage of the trial of defendant's brother," U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon wrote in a two-sentence order Friday.

William Jefferson was convicted Wednesday in Alexandria, Va., on 11 counts, including bribery, for using his influence to broker business deals in Africa.

Coverage prejudicial to Mose Jefferson's case includes "defendant's reported involvement in the transactions at the heart of that case," defense attorney Michael Fawer wrote.

He asked Lemmon on Friday either to delay Mose Jefferson's trial or move it out of New Orleans. "If ever a trial atmosphere has been utterly corrupted by ongoing media coverage it is this one," he wrote.

Fawer did not immediately answer calls Saturday to his office and home.

In a memorandum supporting his motion, Fawer noted that -- once people for whom questionnaires showed jury service would be a hardship had been eliminated -- almost one-third of those left in the jury pool were dropped because of bias.

"Of the total questionnaires returned, over 70 percent actively or casually followed news accounts of William Jefferson's trial and this was well before the widespread coverage of the jury's verdict," he wrote.

He wanted a hearing to present "evidence of the extent and inflammatory nature of the media coverage, as well as polling data reflecting the relevant communities' negative opinion of Mose Jefferson, his brother and the Jefferson family."

This isn't the only case against Mose Jefferson. In a separate racketeering case, he is charged with conspiring with his sister, New Orleans tax assessor Betty Jefferson; his niece, Angela Coleman; and his girlfriend, former state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt, to pocket grant money earmarked for charitable and educational programs. That trial is scheduled to begin in January.

Fawer and Arthur Lemann III, Mose Jefferson's lawyer in the racketeering case, have asked to withdraw from the cases, but judges have refused.

William Jefferson represented most of New Orleans and parts of neighboring Jefferson Parish for nearly 20 years. He was re-elected to his ninth term in 2006, a year after FBI agents found $90,000 in his freezer, but lost in December to Republican attorney Anh "Joseph" Cao.

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