|Firm lent Jefferson at least $50,000|
FCC to launch satellite
Thursday, June 15, 2006
By Bill Walsh
and Bruce Alpert
WASHINGTON -- Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, who is at the center of a federal criminal bribery probe, received a personal loan from a satellite radio executive who has had business before the federal government, financial records released Wednesday show.
Noah Samara, CEO of WorldSpace Inc., loaned Jefferson between $50,001 and $100,000, according to Jefferson's financial disclosure form for 2005. The date of the loan is not given, but Samara's company was pressing the Federal Communications Commission to let it launch a new satellite last year.
Samara's company, which delivers satellite radio in poor countries, has not been mentioned in any documents released in the federal investigation of Jefferson's role in a telecommunications deal in West Africa.
Asked whether the company had received a subpoena in the case, WorldSpace spokeswoman Judith Pryor said, "We're not talking about that." Jefferson also declined to comment when asked about Samara.
The annual financial disclosure report comes a day before House Democrats are expected to decide whether Jefferson, who has not been charged, should remain on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. The 50-member Democratic Steering Committee last week recommended that Jefferson be removed from the tax-writing panel. The 203-member caucus is expected to do the same and, if approved, it would require a vote by all 435 members of the House.
Federal investigators say Jefferson demanded bribes to promote telecommunications deals in West Africa. Agents said they have videotape of Jefferson accepting $100,000 from a cooperating witness for a bribe intended for a Nigerian official and that $90,000 of that cash was later found in the freezer of the congressman's Capitol Hill home.
Jefferson has said there is an "honorable explanation" that eventually will be revealed.
Loyal donor to Democrats
Samara's company, WorldSpace, uses satellites to extend radio signals to India, Asia and parts of Africa. In January, WorldSpace won approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch a satellite without having to post a $3 million bond. Samara said at the time that the FCC ruling would allow the company to extend radio coverage through Europe.
A native of Ethiopia, Samara has long supported Democratic candidates, donating $50,000 to the national party in 2001, according to the Web site PoliticalMoneyLine. Samara gave $2,000 to Jefferson in 2002 and $4,000 in 2004, the analysis found. He donated to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which Jefferson led until this year, and served as a board member.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, R-Calif., has called for Jefferson to surrender his committee assignment while the federal investigation continues. Pelosi has said it is important for Democrats to show that the party will be tough on ethical misconduct as it presses its election-year case that the House GOP leadership has tolerated corruption.
Jefferson said stepping down from the committee would hurt his hurricane-ravaged New Orleans constituents by denying them representation on a panel that has been important in delivering financial incentives for rebuilding.
Speaking on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show Tuesday, Jefferson suggested there was a racial motive in the case against him, particularly in the May 20 raid of his Capitol Hill office.
"In 219 years, not one member's office has ever been raided," Jefferson said on the nationally syndicated program. "When the first one raided is an African-American's, it does require some investigators being very careful to see why in this case it is being treated differently."
Standing by Jefferson
Jefferson has gotten a statement of support from the 43-member Congressional Black Caucus, but not all of its members are standing by Jefferson. The motion before the Democratic Steering Committee last week to force Jefferson off the panel, at least temporarily, passed after it was introduced by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon and senior caucus member.
Jefferson's office released letters Wednesday from the head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.
The chairman, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., didn't say whether Jefferson should stay or leave the panel, but he praised his performance on the committee, particularly on trade issues.
"While we have not always agreed on the same policy -- although in many areas we have -- I have always respected your policy-driven motives in casting your votes," Thomas wrote.
State Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, said it is unfair to require Jefferson to give up his seat when even members under indictment haven't had to give up committee slots.
"Most of my constituents feel that the national Democratic Party has taken African-American voters for granted far too long," Richmond said. "Now, it appears that the party is conveniently singling out Congressman Jefferson for political gain."
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Bill Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or at (202) 383-7817. Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (202) 383-7861