The William Jefferson Chronicles

Mose Jefferson jury hears FBI tapes
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday August 12, 2009, 9:27 PM

Wearing a microphone hidden on her by two FBI agents, former Orleans Parish School Board member Ellenese Brooks-Simms tried to wheedle information out of Mose Jefferson as they walked around aisles of a Home Depot on the West Bank.

In a recording from the store meeting played Wednesday in federal court, Jefferson was reserved, barely mentioning the names of people he and Brooks-Simms were talking about, liberally using pronouns instead. Throughout an afternoon court session, Brooks-Simms often translated Jefferson's opaque sentences in response to questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone, filling in names and expounding on what he meant.

The discussion focused on two women Brooks-Simms used to cash three checks from Jefferson, she testified between snippets of the recordings. Jefferson instructed Brooks-Simms to call the women -- who Brooks-Simms testified were her daughter, Stacy Simms, and Rosa Dickerson, a church friend -- to tell them that they had worked for his companies. That would provide the reason the blank checks he wrote to Brooks-Simms were filled out in those women's names, she said.

"I, I can say I hired them, you see, " Jefferson said at one point.

Brooks-Simms testified the conversation took place at a time when Jefferson knew the FBI was looking at their transactions.

Jefferson, the older brother and political confidant of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, who was convicted last week on unrelated corruption charges, is accused of giving Brooks-Simms three checks totaling $140,000 after the Orleans Parish School Board voted twice to buy a computer-based algebra tutorial, spending a total of more than $13 million. Brooks-Simms testified before the tapes were played that she considered the money from Jefferson, who was a consultant for the company selling the computer program, to be in exchange both for her vote and "any influence I had."

Defense's turn

Michael Fawer, the defense attorney for Jefferson, told jurors in opening statements Tuesday that Brooks-Simms lied to federal investigators and her lies continued in the taped conversations. He is expected to cross examine Brooks-Simms today in a trial that may take another week.

Jefferson acknowledges giving Brooks-Simms money, intending to help her out during rough financial times, Fawer said. He described the efforts to hide the source of the money as Brooks-Simms' idea.

Brooks-Simms, the star witness for federal prosecutors, pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy to commit bribery associated with a program that gets federal funds, specifically Title I financing that targets low-income children. She agreed to cooperate with the FBI after she was first questioned by federal investigators in May 2007. That help included wearing a hidden microphone during two conversations with Jefferson.

Jefferson served as the Orleans Parish salesman for the I CAN Learn algebra teaching tool, developed by local company JRL Enterprises. He earned a commission of 10 percent on a $6.9 million sale in 2003 and a 5 percent commission on a $6.6 million sale in 2004.

Through one of his companies -- although not the one with the I CAN Learn contract -- Jefferson gave Brooks-Simms two checks for $50,000 each in late 2003 and early 2004. The checks were signed by another man, Eddy Oliver, but Brooks-Simms testified they were given to her directly by Jefferson.

Blanks on checks

The checks were blank in the memo line and the name of the recipient, Brooks-Simms said. Knowing that as an elected official it would not look proper for her to take money from Jefferson, Brooks-Simms said she instructed her daughter Stacy to open a bank account at Liberty Bank so she could access the money. Brooks-Simms also filled in her daughter's name as the recipient of both checks, she said.

The last check for $40,000, which Brooks-Simms received in early 2005 after she lost re-election and was out of office, was written out to Rosa Dickerson, a church friend, she said. Jefferson had criticized her for putting her daughter's name on the previous checks, she said, so she gave him a name of a friend. Brooks-Simms said she later forged her friend's signature on the back and gave the check to a businessman friend, who cashed it for her.

In the Home Depot recording, which was taped on May 21, 2007, Jefferson can be heard repeatedly telling Brooks-Simms to talk to her daughter -- who she at that point was seldom speaking to -- and her friend Dickerson to tell them they had worked for him. He also wanted to make sure that they amended their tax returns to reflect the payments.

Payment denied

At one point, Jefferson said he didn't pay Brooks-Simms.

"But I wasn't trying to funnel no money to you, " he said. Brooks-Simms, however, said that was not true.

Their next conversation took place four days later while the two sat on a bench in a corridor at the West Jefferson Medical Center, where Brooks-Simms had gone to pick up some medicine for her ill husband. Brooks-Simms had told Jefferson she would get back in touch with him to fill him in on her conversations with Dickerson and her daughter.

In her testimony, Brooks-Simms described Jefferson as distrustful and suspicious of her during that conversation, as he knew she was being questioned by federal investigators.

"I would never say I'd pay a bribe to you and you can never say that I did. You understand that. 'Cause I didn't, " he said on the recording.

But a federal prosecutor asked Brooks-Simms whether that was accurate or if she considered the money to be a reward for her help. "Yes, I did, " she said.

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Laura Maggi can be reached at or at 504.826.3316.

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