The William Jefferson Chronicles

Federal prosecutors rest their case in Mose Jefferson bribery trial
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Monday August 17, 2009, 12:05 PM

Federal prosecutors this afternoon rested their case against Mose Jefferson after a morning of testimony from several witnesses with relatively minor connections to the case.

Former Orleans Parish School Board member Elliot Willard was preparing to take the stand as the defense's first witness.

The most important government witnesses were presented to the jury last week, led by former Orleans Parish School Board member Ellenese Brooks-Simms, who testified she took $140,000 worth of money from Jefferson in exchange for voting for an algebra tutorial he was selling to the school system.

Jefferson, a political operative and older brother of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, faces charges of bribing a public official, obstruction of justice and money laundering, while Brooks-Simms pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribery in 2007. She awaits sentencing.

Jefferson has acknowledged giving the money to Brooks-Simms, but has said it was a gift for a friend who needed financial assistance, not a bribe. He is expected to take the stand in his own defense, one of several witnesses that defense attorney Michael Fawer has told jurors to expect after the prosecution finishes their case.

This morning, jurors continued to hear testimony from Burnell Moliere, a businessman and former Jefferson family ally who cashed a $40,000 checks for Brooks-Simms by depositing it in his personal bank account.

To assemble $40,000 worth of cash to give Brooks-Simms, Moliere wrote out checks to his employees at a janitorial company, as well as checks to cash, making sure each one was for less than $10,000 so it wouldn't have to be reported by his bank to the federal government. He has pleaded guilty to the federal crime of structuring a financial transaction and also is awaiting sentencing.

Although Moliere told the grand jury investigating the case that he first heard from Brooks-Simms about the check, he testified on Friday that the initial phone call he received was from Jefferson, saying a school board member was going to come talk to him. Phone records showed the jury today supported that statement.

After Brooks-Simms asked him to cash the check for her, Moliere called Jefferson to make sure the check was good, he testified.

Jurors this morning also heard from Ollie Tyler, a longtime educator who was chief academic officer for Orleans Parish from 2000 to January 2003. Tyler said she thought it was unusual that Brooks-Simms, as a school board member, was so involved in the early negotiations with JRL Enterprises, which owned the I CAN Learn program that taught mathematics to students. Board members were typically not as involved in contract negotiations, she testified.

An official from the U.S. Department of Education also testified, giving jurors an outline of the amount of federal Title I money usually received by the city. This kind of funding, which was used to pay for two purchases worth more than $6.5 million each of the I CAN Learn program, is targeted at students who are impoverished, said Charles Laster, the federal official.

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