|Jefferson's help had a price, feds say|
by Bruce Alpert, Washington bureau
Sunday December 23, 2007, 10:03 PM
WASHINGTON -- He is a former aide to the late Sen. Russell Long, D-La., who became an energy lobbyist. She is a Florida businesswoman who has invested in a number of struggling businesses with potential for big profits.
What James Creaghan and Noreen Wilson have in common, according to the Justice Department, is a reliance on U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, to help win contracts in western Africa. The government says that in return for that help, the congressman asked for compensation to a family member or companies controlled by his family.
In the department's June 4 indictment of Jefferson and a subsequent filing last month, the government alleges 13 bribery schemes by the nine-term congressman. Five of them are connected to either Creaghan or Wilson, or the two of them together.
They are listed by the Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators and have testified before the Virginia grand jury that indicted Jefferson. Both are expected to be witnesses in Jefferson 's trial, now slated for Feb. 25.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Bellows said last week that Creaghan's cooperation "opened up the floodgates" to the breadth of business ventures connected to Jefferson. The FBI didn't even know anything about Creaghan until Jefferson mentioned him during an interview with agents during the August 2005 search of the congressman's New Orleans house, according to FBI Agent Tim Thibault.
"Creaghan was the only person the congressman named during two hours that I didn't know," Thibault testified last week during a pre-trial hearing before Virginia Federal District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III.
According to the Justice Department, Creaghan and Wilson worked together to promote Global Environmental Energy Inc., a New Orleans firm that said it had a patented "biosphere" device that could efficiently incinerate garbage and turn it into energy.
Washington lobbyist Dick Egle attended Louisiana State University with Creaghan and said he got to know Wilson in 2004 when his former classmate asked him to help her promote Global with federal decision-makers.
'Friendly with Jefferson '
Creaghan's relationship with Jefferson soon became apparent, Egle said.
"I knew that Jim was friendly with Jefferson," Egle said. "He told me that he had been on some trips with him."
The Justice Department says that in 2003, the year before Egle began working for Global, Jefferson told Creaghan he was willing to help Global sell its incinerators in Africa, but that a family member would have to be compensated.
A year later Global, along with iGate Inc., another company that the government says Jefferson agreed to help in return for promised payments to a family-controlled business, paid for a trip Jefferson took to Nigeria. But little if anything resulted from the trip, and Global filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005.
Formed by a former Irish prime minister in 2000, when it was known as LETH Energy, the company in news releases listed contracts for hundreds of incinerators and $450 million in financing. But no more than a handful were built, according to bankruptcy filings by some of Global's creditors.
La. incinerator contracts
Global won contracts for two incinerators in Louisiana, one from the Port of New Orleans, but neither was built. Minutes compiled by the port indicate that Phillip Jones, Jefferson's son-in-law, served as a technical adviser for the proposed New Orleans incinerator.
Egle said Wilson and the company kept "talking big" about Global's prospects.
"Those things that I was told were supposed to happen with Global would never materialize," Egle said. "It became pretty clear that something wasn't right."
Global wasn't the only company in which Creaghan and Wilson joined forces to ask for Jefferson 's help.
In late 2001, when an oil development project off the western coast of Africa was unraveling, Wilson and Creaghan asked Jefferson to intervene, according to the Justice Department.
Jefferson, who had strong ties to Africa, said he was willing to provide assistance for Procura Financial Consultants of South Africa, which was seeking to safeguard an oil development contract off the coast of the island nation Sao Tome and Principe. But in return, according to the Justice Department, he expected a family member to be compensated.
Wire worn for feds
Creaghan's attorney, E. Barton Conradi of Baton Rouge, said his client is a respected "government relations" professional who has represented companies large and small.
"From the beginning Mr. Creaghan has willingly and voluntarily cooperated with and assisted the government in this matter and has done so on an extended basis," Conradi said. At one point, according to a court filing, Creaghan wore a wire to aid the government's investigation of Jefferson.
Last week, during the pre-trial hearing before Judge Ellis, Jefferson's attorney, Robert Trout, asked FBI Agent Thibault about how he secured Creaghan's help. "Didn't you tell Mr. Creaghan he would either be a cooperating witness or a defendant?" Trout asked. After a Justice Department attorney objected, Ellis said that Thibault didn't have to answer the question.
Wilson, who lives in Florida and contributed $4,500 to Jefferson's re-election campaigns from 2003 to 2005, has spoken publicly only once about her relationship with Jefferson. After the congressman's homes and his accountant's office were raided in August 2005, Wilson told The Times-Picayune that Jefferson was always willing to help businesses interested in African investment but never asked for anything in return.
She has declined subsequent requests for interviews but appeared at least five times before the Virginia grand jury that issued the 16-count indictment against the congressman.
Ties cited in takeover feud
Though Wilson isn't talking publicly about her relationship with Jefferson, some business associates are.
Bobby Davis, former president and majority shareholder of E'Prime Aerospace, a Virginia company, is waging a contentious legal fight with the company's new president, James D. Oldham III, partly over what he says is an effort by Wilson and her "Wilson Group" to take over the company.
In a Nov. 16 ruling rejecting a request from Oldham that the case be dropped, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Baker said Davis is concerned about Wilson's "ties to William Jefferson," who the judge noted is under a federal indictment.
The Justice Department says Jefferson, at Wilson's request, agreed to write a letter to NASA in support of launch contracts sought by E'Prime Aerospace.
Jefferson isn't accused of asking for anything for writing the letter. But after agreeing to send the letter, and before mailing it, the Justice Department says Jefferson asked that a family member receive a commission from E'Prime for projects the company was pursuing in west and central Africa.
The key component of the government's case against Jefferson centers on allegations that Jefferson demanded compensation for family members in return for helping a Kentucky firm, iGate Inc., win telecommunications contracts in western Africa.
The Justice Department says the other 12 alleged schemes, including the five connected to Creaghan and Wilson, show that his involvement with iGate fit into a much larger criminal pattern. Jefferson has maintained his innocence.
Washington bureau reporter Bill Walsh contributed to this report.
Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 383-7861.