Jefferson Defense: He Never Intended to Follow Through with Bribe
By Jordan Weissmann
In court papers made public Wednesday, defense lawyers for former Rep. William Jefferson provided the most detailed picture yet of how they intended to defend their client against charges that he sought to bribe to a foreign official.
The upshot: He was trying to save the government’s key witness from a mental meltdown.
Prosecutors claim that Jefferson intended to pay the vice president of Nigeria a $100,000 cash bribe in order to curry favor for a telecommunications deal involving Louisville-based iGate. After discussing the plan with iGate investor Lori Mody, who at the time was secretly cooperating with the FBI, Jefferson retrieved a briefcase with the money from a Virginia parking lot. Most of the marked bills were later discovered in the congressman’s freezer, wrapped in tin foil and stuffed into pie crust and Boca Burger boxes.
But in the new filing — a motion asking the court to allow extra evidence at trial — Jefferson’s legal team argues that the congressman was only placating Mody. He feared that she might otherwise suffer an emotional collapse, which could have endangered the telecom venture. Jefferson, they said, had no plans to actually follow through with the bribe.
“Mr. Jefferson’s actions were motivated by a desire to assuage Mody’s concerns and to keep the deal moving forward so that she and the other investors could achieve financial success,” the filing states. “[H]e told her that he would do what she wanted in order to avoid an emotional collapse that could also have destroyed the business, not because he intended to do it.”
In opening arguments Tuesday, Jefferson attorney Robert Trout, name partner of Trout Cacheris, told the jury that Mody played on Jefferson’s sympathy by acting as a “damsel in distress.” But the new filing makes an explicit connection to her psychological history and Jefferson’s decision making.
“In the summer of 2004, Mody invested in iGate’s Nigerian telecommunications venture, but soon thereafter essentially dropped out of sight,” the court papers state. “In the ensuing months, Mr. Jefferson learned from [former aide and Mody business partner] Brett Pfeffer about Mody’s difficulties and struggles. Once Lori Mody reappeared – at the FBI’s urging – to re-engage Mr. Jefferson in the project, she deliberately made Mr. Jefferson aware of her emotional difficulties as a tool to manipulate his behavior.”
Whether Jefferson’s lawyers will have the opportunity to tell that story in court is unclear. Lawyers are also battling the over whether the defense will be permitted to play certain sections of their client’s recorded conversations with Mody, in which she “repeatedly refers to her emotional collapse” and “to a supposed stalking campaign against her. “ Last evening, Judge T.S. Ellis heard oral arguments from both sides on the issue.
Prosecutors said they will not call Mody as a witness, which would deny Jefferson’s lawyers a chance to cross examine her. The defense has asked the court for access to her mental health records, which in the past they have argued would speak to her credibility as a witness, as well as the reliablitity of her statements to the FBI. Jefferson’s lawyers now say that the records are relevant whether or not she takes the stand.
In its motion, Jefferson’s lawyers also pose the possiblity that prosecutors are hiding potential Brady material by keeping Mody off the stand.
“If they are not calling her because they are aware that Mody would now testify in a way that would contradict allegations in the indictment, that is Brady material which the defense is entitled to have,” the defense said. “If the government promised Mody that she would not have to testify, or that she would not have to reveal any conditions from which she has suffered, that information would also fall within the government’s Brady obligation.”