The William Jefferson Chronicles

Former Rep. William Jefferson denied new trial
By Times-Picayune Staff
September 21, 2009, 12:07PM

Federal Judge T.S. Ellis III today denied former Rep. William Jefferson’s request for a new trial. The request was based partly on the judge's refusal to allow the jury to hear that one of the FBI agents assigned to the corruption case had a sexual relationship with a government informant who secretly recorded conversations with the defendant.

According to the ruling, lead FBI agent Timothy Thibault disclosed June 5, four days before jury selection began, that agent John Guandolo, who served as the undercover driver for the government’s informant Lori Mody, had been involved in a sexual relationship with her.

Mody, who headed a Virginia educational foundation, didn’t testify during the eight-week trial.

Ellis said that disclosure to the jury wasn’t necessary because the government didn’t enter into evidence any of her statements about the contents of meetings that were not secretly recorded by the FBI.

“Defendant offers no basis for concluding that the evidence of the Mody-Guandolo relationship was relevant to any matters in issue at trial and therefore admissible,” Ellis ruled.
The FBI's Washington national office declined comment on today's disclosure about one of its agents.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Alexandria, Va., which prosecuted the case, said he'll let Judge Ellis' ruling "speak for itself."

Jefferson’s legal team said the information should have been disclosed to reveal serious issues of credibility about the FBI’s lengthy investigation of Jefferson and the testimony by the lead agent, Thibault. But Ellis rejected the argument.

"There is absolutely no indication that Thibault knew about the Mody-Guandolo relationship prior to June 5, 2009,” Ellis wrote. “Moreover, Thibault’s apparent failure to discover the relationship does not undermine the credibility of the matters of which he testified.”

Jefferson was found guilty on 11 of 16 charges, including bribery and racketeering, and faces sentencing by Ellis on Oct. 30.

Since the verdict, Jefferson and his wife, Andrea, have filed for bankruptcy, listing, among other debits, more than $5 million to his attorneys, led by Robert Trout.

Jefferson was convicted Aug. 5 in Alexandria, Va., almost four years after raids of his homes in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., in which the FBI found $90,000 in cash hidden in the freezer of his D.C. home, money the government said Jefferson was going to deliver as a bribe to Atiku Abubakar, then vice president of Nigeria, to gain his help with a telecommunications deal in Nigeria being pursued by Mody.

The money was the lion's share of $100,000 in FBI cash that the congressman was videotaped receiving packed in a briefcase days earlier in a suburban Virginia parking lot from Mody, who, beginning in March of 2005, had become a cooperating witness for the FBI, secretly taping her conversations with Jefferson.

The jury did not find him guilty on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which was the count linked to the money in the freezer.

While Mody did not testify at the trial, the jury heard segments of her taped conversations with Jefferson along with more than six weeks of testimony from government witnesses, including iGate Inc. CEO Vernon Jackson and Mody financial adviser Brett Pfeffer, both of whom are serving time after pleading guilty to their involvement in the bribe schemes, and hoped to see their sentences reduced in exchange for their testimony against Jefferson.

Jefferson did not testify in his own defense and his formal defense lasted only about two hours. In his closing argument, lead defense attorney Trout presented his client as a man whose dealings had placed him in an ethical "gray" area, but who had not broken the law.

Trout's argument was that Jefferson's help on these business deals in Africa were beyond the purview of his "official acts" as a member of Congress, and thus did not violate bribery statutes which prohibit receiving things of value in exchange for official acts.

Trout argued that most of the key witness, including Jackson and Pfeffer, and a number of others who testified to avoid prosecution for their own involvement in the various schemes, were telling stories the government wanted to hear to save their own skins.

Of the government case, Trout said, "It boggles the mind how they constructed their way around the facts to make something that was not a crime seem like a crime. That's power."

The prosecution team scoffed at the notion that Jefferson had anyone to blame but himself, portraying Jefferson as a relentless shakedown artist.

"He never let an opportunity to demand a bribe payment pass him by," said assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows in her closing argument.

The jury was comprised of six white women, two white men, two black women and two black men.
Jefferson, the first African-American congressman from Louisiana since Reconstruction, was defeated in a storm-delayed general election in December by Anh "Joseph'' Cao, a little-known Republican attorney who benefited from a very low turnout.

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