iGate exec says he feared retribution during William Jefferson corruption trial testimony
by Bruce Alpert
and Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday June 23, 2009, 9:51 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- Ending his five days of testimony Tuesday, a Kentucky telecommunications executive said he feared ending an arrangement in which he provided payments and stock to a company controlled by former Rep. William Jefferson's wife because he had read what happened to a college administrator who tried to fire Andrea Jefferson from an academic post.
Vernon Jackson, CEO of iGate Inc., who is hoping to have his seven-year, three-month prison sentence for paying bribes to Jefferson reduced by his testimony, said he had read a story on the Internet about how Andrea Jefferson was in danger of losing her job but that the congressman had arranged the firing of the college official instead.
In January 2002, the governing board of the Southern University at New Orleans voted to remove Chancellor Joseph Bouie, who earlier had sought to remove Andrea Jefferson from her post as SUNO's vice chancellor for academic affairs. Bouie said he was fired "because I refused to participate in political nepotism."
Board members who supported his firing cited poor financial oversight and sexual harassment complaints against Bouie.
Judge T.S. Ellis III told the jurors that he was allowing them to consider Jackson's testimony only to help them understand what might have motivated Jackson's actions, not as evidence against Jefferson, who faces a 16-count indictment on bribery, racketeering, conspiracy and other charges.
Jefferson's lawyer Robert Trout, who said he hopes he doesn't have to take the time to disprove the allegations of Jefferson's political interference, said to Jackson, "I take it you don't believe everything you read in the newspaper."
"You are right there, sir, " Jackson replied.
$300,000 plus stock
In his hours of testimony, Jackson, 58, dressed in a green prison jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" stenciled in white on the back, testified that he provided Andrea Jefferson's company, the ANJ Group, with more than $300,000 and millions of shares in his Kentucky telecommunications company in order to get the congressman's help brokering business deals in Western Africa.
Jackson said he believed Jefferson was using his official office to get meetings with top elected officials in Nigeria and elsewhere to win potentially lucrative contracts to develop Internet and cable services through existing copper wires.
At times, Jackson talked about Jefferson using his congressional office, even when the question didn't deal with that topic. In almost every instance, he referred to Jefferson as "U.S. Congressman William Jefferson, " emphasizing his official role.
Jefferson's defense team describes the allegations as centering on private business deals not covered by the federal bribery statutes.
Jefferson friend testifies
The jury began Tuesday's session by hearing from a retired New Orleans telecommunications specialist and longtime Jefferson friend who said he invested $100,000 in iGate in 2001 at the congressman's suggestion. James C. Smith, whom Jefferson had appointed king of Washington Mardi Gras in 1998, the year Jefferson's daughter Jalila was queen, said he wouldn't have invested had he been told that Jefferson's family had a financial stake in iGate.
He said he lost his entire investment.
Ellis said he tends to agree with Jefferson's lawyers that soliciting investments in a business isn't part of the official duties of a congressional member, and therefore testimony about his solicitation of Smith and others probably shouldn't be heard by the jury. Ellis decided to take further testimony from Smith without the jury present, saying he would allow the transcript to be shown to the jury if he later decides the testimony is relevant.
William Oliver, an AT&T executive in New Orleans who was state president for Louisiana operations when it was BellSouth, and Charles Coe, the retired president of network services for BellSouth out of Atlanta, also testified Tuesday that Jefferson intervened on iGate's behalf to try to get BellSouth to use its technology.
In his testimony, Coe said Jefferson had lobbied him on behalf of iGate at a BellSouth Mardi Gras brunch for public officials at Commander's Palace.
Jefferson letter produced
Prosecutors subsequently produced a letter from Andrea Jefferson to Jackson in which she said she had successfully pleaded iGate's case to Coe, even though Coe testified he has never met Mrs. Jefferson.
In his cross-examination of Jackson, Trout tried to show inconsistencies in Jackson's testimony.
For example, Jackson had repeatedly testified that he was paying ANJ and Andrea Jefferson even though they weren't doing any actual work for him. But Trout pointed out that Jackson had conceded that just before the FBI raid of Jefferson's and Jackson's homes, at a time when he had grown to distrust the congressman, he still wanted assurances that ANJ, and specifically Andrea Jefferson, would own a portion of his company.
Under questioning by Trout, Jackson said he now sees that he acted corruptly in teaming with Jefferson.
"I was corrupt when I was doing business, but not now, " said Jackson, who described himself as a minister teaching Bible studies at the West Virginia prison where he has been an inmate for 2 1/2 years.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861. Jonathan Tilove can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7827.