|iGate CEO disregarded tip about Jefferson probe|
WASHINGTON -- In the suburban Virginia offices
that housed her educational foundation, Lori Mody asked iGate Inc. CEO
Vernon Jackson to leave behind his cell phone while they searched for an
empty office to talk privately.
Vernon L. Jackson
When Mody finally got Jackson alone, she told him that Rep. William Jefferson, the New Orleans congressman who had been helping Jackson win telecommunications contracts in West Africa, was under a federal investigation. Be careful, she cautioned Jackson.
The March 2005 meeting was no idle warning. Mody already had been working as a cooperating witness for the FBI, even secretly recording her conversations with the congressman. But her warning to Jackson went unheeded. He decided not to share it with his iGate associates, according to people with knowledge of the exchange who asked not to be named.
It also seems unlikely that Jefferson was told, because just a few months later he accepted a briefcase from Mody with $100,000 in $100 bills that turned out to be part of an FBI sting and most of which was later recovered from a freezer in the congressman's Washington, D.C., home.
Mody, who had become iGate's major investor before souring on a plan to expand iGate's communications technology to West Africa, found Jackson infuriating, according to two friends.
She didn't trust his business instincts, her friends said, and even came to doubt whether he had the licenses he claimed to proceed with the project in Nigeria. But she also admired Jackson for developing a promising technology without a college education (her former husband had to overcome doubts about his business credentials until he obtained his degree), and his willingness to take on much bigger and better-financed competitors.
Most of all, a friend said, Mody, who had become a multimillionaire when she and her former husband sold their successful Defense Department contracting firm in 2002, didn't think Jackson should be the fall guy for what she privately called her "Nigerian fiasco." At the time she was involved with iGate, Mody was heading her own foundation, Win-Win Strategies, which encouraged school systems to share their best practices, particularly in terms of technology.
The disregarded warning from Mody is just one of a number of twists and turns and chance meetings that played major roles in the Jefferson investigation that have been recounted by associates of Jackson and Mody interviewed over the past several months.
The probe culminated June 4, when a Virginia grand jury returned a 16-count indictment against Jefferson. Jefferson maintains his innocence and vows to fight vigorously to clear his name. He is scheduled to stand trial in January.
Neither Jackson nor Mody nor their attorneys would comment for this report.
Urged to go to FBI
According to accounts provided by associates of Jackson and Mody, the iGate CEO was apparently reassured that Mody's warning of a federal investigation wasn't worth worrying about. Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide who had introduced the nine-term Democrat to Mody and helped persuade her to invest in iGate, told Jackson that the foundation head was prone to exaggerations and misinterpretations and that this seemed like another of her misguided conspiracy theories.
Jackson would learn that Mody's hushed warning wasn't some irrational hunch when FBI agents appeared at his Louisville, Ky., home Aug. 3, 2005, the same day other agents raided the Jeffersons' Washington and New Orleans homes. He would plead guilty to bribing the congressman nine months later, and is now serving a seven-year, three-month sentence in a West Virginia federal prison.
By early 2005, Mody was said to be so disgusted in the iGate investments that she stopped accepting phone calls from Jackson and Jefferson.
Her decision to go to the FBI came at the urging of new security consultant, Paul Viollis.
Viollis began working for Mody and her Win-Win Strategies Foundation in January 2005, after she told Bruce Bowman, a former Green Beret who had put her on the board of his Virginia after-school program, that she was worried about her personal safety.
Bowman said he knew someone who might be able to help: Viollis, a New York City security expert he knew through business dealings and their participation in an e-mail Christian fellowship group. Viollis, whose firm, Risk Control Strategies, does security work for major corporations, agreed to work with Mody as a personal favor to Bowman.
Agreed to wear wire
Bodyguards were immediately assigned to Mody. And the Risk Control Strategies staff, along with New York lawyer Edward Cox, the husband of Tricia Nixon Cox, daughter of former President Richard Nixon, went through her financial books. Pfeffer, the financial adviser who had introduced her to Jefferson, was soon escorted out of the Win-Win Strategies office by Risk Control security officers. He also would later plead guilty to bribery-related charges in the case.
Viollis, whose staff included several former FBI agents, told Mody that the iGate projects involved potential illegal activity and that the Justice Department would be interested because a congressman was involved.
At his urging, she made an appointment with the Falls Church, Va., office of the FBI in March 2005, and met with several agents, who persuaded her to wear a wire in her meetings with Jefferson.
To make it seem that she was still an enthused investor and appreciative of Jefferson's efforts on iGate's behalf, she donated $2,100 to Jefferson's re-election campaign March 31, 2005, money apparently provided by the FBI.
The raids of Jefferson's and Jackson's homes came four days after Mody handed the congressman a briefcase with $100,000 in cash, also supplied by the FBI. The raids brought the investigation into the public eye and spelled the end of Jackson's ambitions for taking his technology to a lucrative new market in Africa.
Jackson had been introduced to Jefferson in 2000 by Washington consultants Jack W. White and Mamadi Diane. The two had met Jackson earlier that year when they came across his iGate Inc. exhibition booth at a Chicago technology show, and told him his copper-wire telecommunications equipment might work in tandem with one of their California clients.
According to two Jackson associates, Diane, CEO of Amex International, a consulting group that specialized in African trade issues, and White, who did consulting work for Amex, began working closely with Jackson after their chance meeting in Chicago. They let him use their Washington, D.C., office when he was in town.
Soon, the two Amex International officials were encouraging Jackson to broaden his company's horizons beyond the United States and into Africa. Diane once served as the unofficial Washington spokesman for the former ruler of impoverished Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, described by Forbes magazine as one of the world's richest dictators.
According to a Jackson friend, Diane told Jackson he knew a congressman from New Orleans who might help iGate make important contacts in West Africa.
After a dinner with Jefferson, Diane and White were so excited that the New Orleans Democrat had agreed to help Jackson that they called him with the "good news" from the side of a highway where their car had broken down.
White could not be reached for comment. Diane told a reporter that he had "no interest in discussing" his relationship with Jefferson or Jackson.
Not long after the dinner between Diane, White and Jefferson, Jackson appeared as Jefferson's guest at the Congressional Black Foundation's annual dinner. He told friends that because of Jefferson, who headed the foundation, he was introduced to some of the biggest names in politics and business.
But sometime in 2001, according to Jackson's plea agreement, his relationship with Jefferson began to change. Jefferson, long considered a leading Democratic proponent of increased African trade, told him he could not continue to help him because of congressional rules unless Jackson signed contracts and paid monthly retainers to a firm controlled by the congressman's wife, Andrea.
In all, the government alleges that Jefferson and his family received $478,153 in illegal cash and travel and some 34 million shares of corporate stock as part of the arrangement.
Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 383-7861.