|Jefferson sister pleads guilty in charity scam|
by Gordon Russell, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday June 18, 2008, 6:50 PM
Dealing a blow to her family's hang-tough legal posture, Brenda Jefferson, the youngest sister of embattled U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, pleaded guilty Wednesday to concealing her knowledge of a conspiracy to skim money from nonprofit groups controlled by relatives.
The plea marked the first admission of guilt by a member of the Jefferson family, five of whom have been charged with federal crimes in the past year.
In doing so, Brenda Jefferson agreed to provide truthful cooperation, according to her plea agreement. A summary of the government's case against her, which she signed, says she knew of and participated in various schemes being carried out by relatives who are now facing corruption charges. Brenda Jefferson also said that two of her family members charged in the charity scandal made out checks to her from the charities' accounts, then forged the endorsement and deposited the money in their own accounts.
The news came a day after the congressman, who is scheduled for trial in Virginia on 16 bribery-related counts in December, announced plans to seek re-election this fall and vowed to clear his family's reputation.
"My family and I have sworn a great oath to trust God and to fight on to vindicate ourselves and our good name," the congressman said Tuesday. "This we will do. And, in none of it, will I or they sacrifice our continued strong commitment and effective delivery of the things our people need to recover from the storm and from a bad economy."
Brenda Jefferson, 52, of Covington also goes by the name Brenda Foster. She was involved in various capacities with the charities -- Care Unlimited, Central City Adult Education and Orleans Metropolitan Housing -- and at times was listed as an employee or a member of the board of directors.
The government's case casts her as merely a tool of her older siblings and Angela Coleman, her niece, who used her to help them loot the charities.
As the document puts it: "While the defendant Brenda Jefferson knew of the fraudulent scheme and even received proceeds from it, she participated primarily at the direction and behest" of the others.
Asked whether it was painful for Brenda Jefferson to admit guilt and implicate family members, her attorney, Robert Jenkins said: "Without a doubt it was very difficult. But she has been truthful with the court, and she's going to continue to be truthful with the court."
The crime to which Brenda Jefferson pleaded guilty, misprision of a felony, means knowing about a serious crime and not reporting it; the charge is often the byproduct of a plea deal with the government. Though it carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison, those charged with misprision are typically sentenced to probation.
However, they also are required to provide truthful cooperation, which generally means testifying against others involved in the alleged scheme or other cases in which the defendant can supply evidence.
"If the government calls her as a witness -- or the defense calls her -- she's going to give truthful evidence and testimony," Jenkins said.
The court documents filed Wednesday make clear that Brenda Jefferson can help prosecutors make their case against her sister, 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson, who is also the congressman's sister; their brother, political strategist Mose Jefferson; and Coleman, their niece. The trio is charged with plundering more than $600,000 from three charities they controlled.
A summary of the government's case lays out specific allegations of how Brenda Jefferson and other family members skimmed money from charities:
• Coleman and Betty Jefferson made out a series of checks to Brenda Jefferson without her knowledge. They then forged her name on the backs of the checks and deposited the money in their own accounts.
• At Betty Jefferson's direction, Brenda Jefferson sent a phony report to the state claiming that a certain individual had provided tutors for 25 pregnant teenagers in 2005. The person did not work for the charity, and the teens were never tutored.
• Also at Betty Jefferson's direction, Brenda Jefferson directed an accountant to write checks from the nonprofit group's account to people who she knew did not work for the charity.
• Again at Betty Jefferson's direction, Brenda Jefferson forged the name of an unnamed person on grant applications. The person was the purported director of the charity; in fact, she did not work there.
• At Mose Jefferson's direction, Brenda Jefferson opened a bank account that was a repository for state grant money. She disbursed the money at Mose Jefferson's direction.
Coleman and Betty and Mose Jefferson are scheduled to be arraigned Friday before a federal magistrate. Bond and a trial date will be set at that time.
Mose Jefferson is already set to be tried Oct. 20 on seven bribery-related counts in another federal case. In an indictment handed down in April, a grand jury charged that he paid $140,000 in bribes to the former president of the Orleans Parish School Board in exchange for her support for an algebra tutorial he was selling.
Gordon Russell can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3347.