by Meghan Gordon, The Times-Picayune
Thursday July 10, 2008, 10:18 PM
ELIOT KAMENITZ / THE TIMES PICAYUNE
Derrick Shepherd, left, enters the Hale Boggs Federal Courthouse in New
Orleans with his lawyer in April. The lawyers were back in court today.
U.S. Rep. William Jefferson and Orleans Parish Assessor Betty Jefferson
are the unidentified public officials described in the April conspiracy
indictment against state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, according to Shepherd's
Federal prosecutors acknowledged in a preliminary hearing Thursday that
they recently disclosed the identities of "Public Official A" and
"Public Official B" to Shepherd's defense team, but they would not make
the information part of the public record, a decision backed by U.S.
District Judge Carl Barbier.
After the hearing, defense attorney John Reed confirmed speculation that
the unnamed public officials were the Jeffersons. Neither is charged in
the Shepherd indictment, but they face their own criminal trials in
Foe turned friend
In 2006, Shepherd challenged William Jefferson for the 2nd District
congressional seat, harshly criticizing the incumbent for being targeted
in a federal bribery investigation. Eleven days after finishing third in
the primary, Shepherd endorsed Jefferson in the runoff.
"There are no deals I cut with Congressman Jefferson, " he said at the
time, sloughing off his criticism as campaign talk.
According to the April indictment, Jefferson, D-New Orleans, allegedly
steered unlicensed bond broker Gwen Moyo to Shepherd as a way to pay off
campaign debt. Federal investigators started probing that possible
scenario after Shepherd's about-face endorsement.
As "Public Official B, " Betty Jefferson, the congressman's sister, is
accused of accepting from Moyo four wire transfers worth $320,000
funneled through a company she controlled. Two payments were made in
November 2006; the others were in January 2007, according to the
In July 2007, Moyo wrote a $15,000 check to "ABC Group, " an
unidentified company with which William Jefferson is affiliated.
Reed used the revelation to try to deflect attention from Shepherd's
"That's what the case is all about, really, " Reed said Thursday,
referring to the Jeffersons' alleged involvement. "And we feel that it's
important that that be understood generally. Surely the government has
some reasons for not quite saying it outright, but I think the
proceedings in court today made it very clear today that that's what is
Shepherd, D-Marrero, faces five criminal charges, including mail fraud,
conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money
laundering. Prosecutors say he fabricated records at his law office to
give Moyo access to $141,000 in checks written to AA Communications, one
of her companies whose accounts were frozen by the state Department of
Insurance. He kept about $65,000 and returned the rest to Moyo and her
associates. About $20,000 of that amount was used to pay campaign debt,
according to the indictment.
He denies the conspiracy and says he performed 100 hours of legitimate
legal work for Moyo in exchange for payment.
Barbier dealt with a spate of other preliminary motions in the case,
including defense requests to let Shepherd go to trial separately from
Moyo and to shield his statements made to investigators.
Reed said Shepherd's right to a fair trial was jeopardized by his
co-defendant's insistence upon representing herself in court despite
Barbier's repeated warnings against it.
Barbier reiterated that message to her Thursday, but he denied Reed's
motion to hold separate trials.
Moyo qualifies for a public defender, but she has waved off any legal
assistance apart from a stand-by counsel who may provide only ancillary
procedural tips, not strategic advice during the trial.
"I wonder about that over and over again, " Barbier said. "I definitely
don't think it's a good idea for her to try to represent herself."
He said he hasn't ruled out ordering her to accept an attorney and would
revisit the question, especially in light of a Supreme Court decision in
June that changed the legal standard of mental competency required for
self-representation versus sanity to stand trial.
Barbier added that the joint case would likely present opportunities for
the co-defendants to inculpate each other, but he said redacting
interview transcripts before trial would prevent the jury from hearing
In a separate motion, Reed asked Barbier to shield from jurors
statements Shepherd made to investigators before his indictment.
Prosecutors called FBI Special Agent Peter Smith to testify about his
Aug. 6 interview of Shepherd with Special Agent Lisa Horner. Smith said
he tried for two weeks to reach Shepherd by phone at his Marrero law
firm, then paid an early-morning visit to the senator's home in
Stonebridge Country Club near Gretna, outside his 3rd District.
Smith said he didn't restrict Shepherd's movement or prevent him from
making phone calls. The interview ended when Shepherd said he had to
attend his stepfather's funeral.
The FBI agent said he didn't explain to Shepherd his constitutional
rights because he wasn't being detained and hadn't become a target of
On cross-examination, Reed suggested that the federal government was
targeting Shepherd well before the interview. He said investigators
already seized bank records and knew of Shepherd's financial ties to
"It's not really like Mr. Shepherd was some old witness when you went to
see him in August, " Reed said.
Smith said he simply wanted to hear Shepherd's side of things.
Barbier denied the defense motion, saying Shepherd wasn't in custody
during the interview and that investigators had no probable cause at
that point to arrest him.
Defendant a no-show
Shepherd did not attend the hearing, which appeared to puzzle Barbier.
"He filed a motion to suppress and he's not here?" the judge said from
the bench. "He's the defendant."
Reed said he didn't believe the law required Shepherd to attend the
preliminary hearing. He said his client waived his appearance and
wouldn't challenge the procedure as infringing on his rights.
"Frankly I haven't seen a case where the defendant wasn't present for
substantial motions like these, " Barbier said.
. . . . . . .
Meghan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or