The William Jefferson Chronicles

Mose Jefferson heads to trial on charges of bribing former Orleans School Board president
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Sunday August 09, 2009, 2:42 PM

Less than a week after his brother, former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, was convicted of public corruption, Mose Jefferson is scheduled to go to trial today on charges he bribed a former Orleans Parish School Board president.

When proceedings open at the federal courthouse on Poydras Street, close attention will be given to whether jurors carry a bias against Mose Jefferson.

The defense on Friday asked U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon to postpone or move the trial, citing the cascade of publicity after the verdicts -- 11 of them convictions -- last week in William Jefferson's corruption trial in Virginia. Lemmon denied the request, but she said questioning of potential jurors "will reveal the extent of prejudice, if any" resulting from news media coverage of William Jefferson's trial.

Almost a third of the southeast Louisiana jury pool, responding in written questionnaires, already has been dismissed because of bias, defense attorney Michael Fawer wrote in a court filing. More than 70 percent of the potential jurors who responded indicated they were actively or casually following the Virginia trial, he said.

Mose Jefferson, the congressman's older brother and chief political strategist, was not a defendant in the Virginia case, but his name was mentioned frequently during the almost two-month trial, particularly in its waning days. Several witnesses testified that the former congressman agreed to assist businesses with their projects in Africa as long as Mose Jefferson was cut in on the deals.

Lemmon previously rejected requests for a trial delay in Mose Jefferson's case, which originated in an April 2008 indictment.

Six months from now, when the furor surrounding the William Jefferson verdict has simmered down, is a reasonable time to hold the trial, Fawer said.

"Nobody is suggesting, 'Oh you ought to dismiss the indictment because of publicity,' " he said.

Shaun Clarke, a former federal prosecutor, said he can see the defense's point that publicity of the Virginia trial is at its apex.

"It is entirely a discretionary call for the court," Clarke said. He added that the judge could instead decide to give the defense "substantial leeway" during jury selection to question prospective jurors about their opinions of the Jefferson family.

Algebra software

The charges against Mose Jefferson, which include bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice, are unrelated to his brother's trial. He is accused of bribing former Orleans Parish School Board President Ellenese Brooks-Simms over three years in exchange for her support for an algebra curriculum he was selling for a company called JRL Enterprises.

Jefferson has denied the bribery charge, pointing out that the School Board in both 2003 and 2004 voted unanimously to buy the "I CAN Learn" program, which cost $14 million over two years. His attorneys have repeatedly questioned why he would bribe somebody when the outcome of the vote swung overwhelmingly in his favor.

"There was no question some money was paid. The point is it was not done for an exchange or for any illegal action on the part of Ellenese Brooks-Simms," Fawer said. "The relationship between these people goes back 20 years."

Although federal prosecutors filed motions to bar him from framing his defense along those lines, Lemmon denied that request, saying the issue of the vote, along with arguments about the program's effectiveness, are clearly relevant to Jefferson's intent.

The U.S. attorney's office has assembled a compelling cast of characters to testify for the prosecution, starting with Brooks-Simms, who sources have indicated wore a wire during conversations with Mose Jefferson. Brooks-Simms, who was elected with the help of the Jefferson family, two years ago pleaded guilty to taking bribes.

Stacy Simms, the former School Board president's daughter, also pleaded guilty to helping her mother access the money by setting up a bank account used to deposit two of the checks. She too is expected to testify, along with Norco businessman Burnell Moliere, a Jefferson ally who last year pleaded guilty to cashing a $40,000 check from Jefferson and getting the money to Brooks-Simms through a serious of smaller payments.

Another witness, whom both Fawer and prosecutors have indicated they want to testify, will be John Lee, the owner of JRL Enterprises. Lee has said he hired Mose Jefferson because of his relationships with "decision makers," but he stated he never authorized bribes.

Sorting out finances

While Lemmon still must decide whether to delay the trial, a magistrate judge on Friday might have resolved another of the outstanding issues still hovering over the case just days before the trial.

Magistrate Judge Louis Moore Jr. on Friday agreed to change Mose Jefferson's $200,000 bond, previously secured by a house he owns in eastern New Orleans, to a personal surety bond, said Arthur "Buddy" Lemann III, a defense attorney for Jefferson in another pending federal case.

Jefferson needed to free up the value associated with the house on Morrison Road to pay his legal bills, which has become impossible because of federal prosecutors' notices they will seize his Central City rental properties if convicted.

Lemann said it is not yet clear whether a loan the lawyers could secure against the value of the house will be enough to cover all of Jefferson's legal bills, but added, "It is a step toward some bacon."

In the other pending federal case, Mose Jefferson, along with his sister, 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson; her daughter, Angela Coleman; and former City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt are accused of pilfering money from taxpayer-financed non-profit groups set up to help the poor. That trial is set for January.

Laura Maggi can be reached at or 504.826.3316.

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