Former aide testifies against William Jefferson
by Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday June 30, 2009, 11:18 AM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- Former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson was so crucial to a proposed telecommunications deal in Nigeria that he could demand a 5 percent to 7 percent share of the company and a $2,500- to $5,000-a-month job for his brother Archie, a one-time congressional aide testified today.
Brett Pfeffer, who is beginning his 28th month in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2006 to participating in a bribery scheme with the former Democratic congressman, said Jefferson and his connections were essential to getting things done in Africa.
Jefferson is accused in a 16-count federal indictment of using his office to solicit bribes for that help. The former congressman has pleaded innocent saying he was acting as a private businessman and therefore not covered by the bribery statutes.
After working in Jefferson's congressional office Pfeffer had gone on to a $700,000-a-year job as an investment adviser for Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody. It was at Pfeffer's suggestion that Mody invested in the project to bring technology from iGate Inc., a company Jefferson was promoting, to Nigeria and other Western African nations.
Pfeffer testified that he believed the deal was his ticket to instant riches.
"I thought this deal was going through and I'm going to be wealthy and Lori is going to be even more wealthy," said Pfeffer, who was wearing a green prison uniform as he testified.
The reason for his confidence, Pfeffer said, was the involvement of his former boss, the nine-term congressman from New Orleans.
"I had a lot of respect for him," Pfeffer said. "I didn't think he'd put me in a deal that wasn't good. I had a lot of confidence in him."
But Pfeffer would later warn Mody not to be "surprised if the congressman asks us for something" in return for helping put the deal together.
How did he know that, Justice Department prosecutor Charles Duross asked.
"Gut feeling," Pfeffer replied.
The request came in 2005, Pfeffer said. When Mody temporarily left a meeting with Jefferson at the Jones Walker law firm in New Orleans, Pfeffer testified that Jefferson approached him and said he would have to have a 5 percent to 7 percent stake in the new company for his family.
"I knew what he was asking for was illegal," Pfeffer said, "but I knew we were going to make a lot of money and we couldn't do it without the congressman."
He said the success of the deal was dependant on Jefferson for his connections in Nigeria, especially his influence with that country's president, vice president and officials with the national telecommunications agency, as well as his ability to get the company a loan from the Export-Import Bank.
Without him, Pfeffer testified, there would be no deal. "I told Miss Mody the congressman needs 5 to 7 percent."
A few weeks later, Pfeffer said Jefferson called to tell him that the new company also would need to hire his brother Archie at a salary of between $2,500 and $5,000 a month.
Asked what duties Archie Jefferson would perform for the company, Pfeffer said, "I had no idea. I'm not really sure what his role would be."
Did that matter, he was asked. "No, in my mind we needed to get this deal done."
Pfeffer said he was told that Archie Jefferson had been affiliated with a group of Texas investors who had missed out on the iGate deal when Mody was brought in and that Rep. Jefferson said his brother needed to be compensated for being taken out of the deal.
Pfeffer said he told Jefferson that he would have to talk to Mody about it, but that the congressman said he had already cleared it with her.
What Pfeffer and Jefferson didn't know is that Mody had gone to the FBI to complain that she was being ripped off and had started wearing a wire and recording her conversations with Jefferson, Pfeffer and others.