|Jefferson's seized papers can be used, judge rules|
Documents taken during N.O. search
Saturday, August 16, 2008
By Bruce Alpert
WASHINGTON -- Nearly all the 1,400 pages of documents taken by the FBI from Rep. William Jefferson's New Orleans home in August 2005, along with high-resolution photographs of other items, can be used against the nine-term Democrat in his public corruption trial scheduled to begin Dec. 2, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis did agree to bar the use of a 1991 calendar and documents listed only as related to "Moss Creek," because they were not part of the search warrant or connected to the types of materials being sought by the Justice Department.
The ruling allows virtually all of the key documents taken or photographed by the FBI agents three years ago to be used in the prosecution of a 16-count indictment that includes bribery, racketeering, mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Jefferson has pleaded innocent.
Many of the documents relate to iGate Inc., a Kentucky company that the government says was being helped by Jefferson to obtain contracts in Nigeria in return for payments to a company controlled by the congressman's family.
Ellis earlier rejected another plea by Jefferson's lawyers to bar the government from telling the jury about incriminating comments Jefferson made immediately before the raid began, statements they said the congressman made under duress because he felt like a prisoner in his own home.
In that ruling, Ellis said given that the congressman was interviewed in his home, "with his consent, and that he was not subject to control or restraint by the questioning agents, demonstrates conclusively that the atmosphere of the interrogation was not police-dominated."
Defense attorneys had argued that Jefferson felt like his actions were being controlled, noting that he was told this would be the "worst day of his life," and that one of the agents even followed him when he asked to go the bathroom and wouldn't allow him to close the door.
In his ruling Friday, Ellis said he found that most of the material taken, although not mentioned in the search warrant, could be used by the government because it was either in plain view, could be perceived by the agents as evidence of illegal activity similar to that already being investigated, or was later obtained through other sources.
Ellis said, for example, that an agreement between Arkel Sugar of Baton Rouge and Providence Lake, a company allegedly controlled by a Jefferson family member, though not specifically named in the search warrant, could be taken as evidence because Providence Lake had the same address as ANJ, a Jefferson family company the government had already linked to iGate.
"In light of the shared ANJ address, agents had reason to believe that the document described a further illegal scheme whereby defendant performed official acts in return for the payment of bribes to a nominee company controlled by a member of his family," Ellis said.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861.