|Firm tangled in Jefferson case received $450,000|
By Kevin Bogardus and Susan Crabtree
October 04, 2007
A company whose executives have been named by federal prosecutors as co-conspirators in the indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was awarded a $450,000 grant from a government agency that the congressman allegedly influenced, according to public records.
Federal prosecutors have named top executives of the Louisiana-based company, TDC Overseas Limited, as conspirators in the lawmaker’s alleged bribery scheme involving business projects in Nigeria.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) indicted Jefferson on 16 counts of bribery and corruption in early June. He pleaded not guilty, and his trial is slated for January 2008.
The indictment does not refer to TDC by name, but mentions a “Company G” as one of the many businesses involved, and asserts that it sought to develop marginal oil fields and a fertilizer plant in Nigeria. TDC was working on a Nigerian fertilizer plant during the indictment’s timeline.
The indictment also alleges that Jefferson and his aides supported and monitored at least one unnamed company’s application with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). In May 2002, “Businessperson G,” affiliated with Company G, had an application filed with the USTDA for “the funding for the feasibility study related to the development of a fertilizer plant in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.”
The USTDA’s fiscal 2002 report shows that TDC received a $450,000 grant to pay for a feasibility study for the Akwa Ibom State Fertilizer Complex.
According to the indictment, once “Company G” agreed to compensate one of Jefferson’s family members, the Louisiana Democrat would help the entity’s business projects in Nigeria.
For his part, Jefferson allegedly had an aide keep track of the USTDA application. The indictment claims the congressman also attended meetings with agency officials and convinced a high-ranking African official to endorse the fertilizer plant project.
An Aug. 8 letter that Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle sent to Jefferson’s lawyers names TDC executives John Melton and Ramon Jarrell as co-conspirators in Jefferson’s bribery scheme. Louisiana corporate records list Melton and Jarrell as TDC managers.
An exhibit to one of several court motions that Jefferson’s attorneys filed in September includes Lytle’s letter.
In addition, African press reports state that the U.S. attorney’s office investigating Jefferson’s deals on the continent sent a letter in 2006 to Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) requesting its assistance in finding information on government officials, institutions and private companies concerning the allegations against Jefferson. The letter included a list of 31 individuals and companies. Atiku Abubakar, who was Nigeria’s vice president at the time and whose Potomac, Md., home was searched by the FBI, was first on that list, and TDC was eighth.
Jefferson’s spokesman declined to comment. A USTDA spokeswoman referred questions to the Justice Department and the FBI, both of which also declined to comment. Jarrell and Melton did not return messages.
In a flurry of motions filed three weeks ago, Jefferson’s lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the conspiracy counts against the congressman. In specific reference to the alleged plot to influence USTDA, Jefferson’s lawyers contend that prosecutors only included their client’s actions related to the company’s agency application in the indictment to help secure the Alexandria, Va., court venue for his trial as well as to remain within the scope of the statute of limitations.
In a separate filing, Jefferson’s attorneys said the judge should move the trial from its Alexandria location because the venue would allow the government to exclude black people from the jury to try the black congressman. USTDA is headquartered in Arlington.
Jarrell and Melton, the TDC executives listed in Lytle’s letter, each donated $500 to Jefferson’s campaign committee on the same day in August 2003, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.
TDC, along with several companies, helped pay for an eight-day trip that Jefferson took to Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria, in February 2003, costing close to $16,000, according to the trip’s disclosure form filed with the House clerk. Jefferson said the trip was for a “review of US Trade + Development Agency (TDA) projects/briefing on Nigeria elections.”
Another Nigerian company implicated in the Jefferson investigation also received a USTDA grant in 2002. Arkel Sugar Inc. won a $288,645 grant for a feasibility study of the Ogun State Sugar Factory, according to the agency’s fiscal 2002 report.
Lytle named George Knost, an executive for Arkel International, in his letter to Jefferson’s attorneys listing potential co-conspirators. Arkel International shares the same Baton Rouge, La., address with Arkel Sugar and much of the same management, according to Louisiana corporate records.
In addition, both companies were named in the Justice Department letter to the EFCC, according to press reports.
Knost has donated a total of $3,500 to Jefferson’s campaign committee since 2001, according to FEC records. Messages left for Knost were not returned.
It is unclear whether Jefferson attempted to help Arkel win the USTDA grant. Jefferson’s indictment outlines another scheme involving the company and the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
According to a report in the Baton Rouge Advocate, Export-Import officials confirmed that Arkel Sugar was discussed at meetings, including those with Jefferson, held on Feb. 13 and May 1, 2001, about financing a sugar plant in Jigawa State, Nigeria. Those are the same dates that the president of “Company E” met with Jefferson or one of his aides and bank officials about financing a sugar plant, according to the indictment.
The indictment also claims Jefferson helped Company E win an $8 million feasibility and engineering contract with a Nigerian sugar company. In exchange, the company’s executives agreed to a commission fee with a separate Jefferson company.
After Jefferson helped Company E wire close to $534,000 from a Nigerian bank account to Baton Rouge for the sugar factory project, a Jefferson family member received about $21,350, the indictment alleges.
Being identified as a co-conspirator does not necessarily imply that someone committed a crime or will be charged with one, said Roscoe C. Howard Jr., a partner at the Troutman Sanders law firm.
“They may be witnesses. Some indictments are a story and you need people to tell that story,” said Howard, who served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 2001 to 2004.
Allowing individuals and companies to remain unnamed in indictments of other people or entities can help prosecutors secure testimony from those closest to the potential crime.
“You don’t want to embarrass your cooperators,” said Howard.