The William Jefferson Chronicles

Mose Jefferson to take the stand, his attorney says as trial opens
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday August 11, 2009, 9:05 PM

Launching an assault against federal prosecutors' portrayal of him as a man who bribed a former Orleans Parish School Board member in order to land a lucrative commission, Mose Jefferson will testify in his own defense, explaining to jurors his version of what happened, defense attorney Michael Fawer said in an opening statement on Tuesday.

The defense strategy outlined by Fawer to 12 jurors and two alternates is starkly different than the two hours of testimony put on by attorneys for former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, the younger brother of Mose Jefferson. William Jefferson was convicted last week after an almost two-month trial on unrelated political corruption charges. He plans to appeal.

Mose Jefferson, who with his brother led the Progressive Democrats political organization in New Orleans, is accused of giving $140,000 to former School Board member Ellenese Brooks-Simms, who voted to approve the purchase of an algebra computer tutorial he was promoting.

Fawer promised jurors a host of defense witnesses beyond his client, including other School Board members who served with Brooks-Simms, all of whom also voted to approve contracts for the I CAN Learn program in 2003 and 2004. The defense will also call former Orleans Parish Schools Superintendent Tony Amato and former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, who served as a lobbyist for the company that developed the program, Fawer said.

In his opening statements in U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon's courtroom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens told jurors Mose Jefferson helped elect his friend and political ally Brooks-Simms to the School Board and months later signed up with JRL Enterprises to try to sell its computer program to the same body.

When the contracts -- each worth more than $6.5 million -- went through in 2003 and 2004, Jefferson reaped more than $900,000 in commissions, a portion of which he "kicked back" to Brooks-Simms, the prosecutor said. "After he got paid, what did he do? He paid his School Board member, " Pickens said.

Fawer asked jurors to not buy into the prosecution's "mesmerizing tale."

"They just want to say 'payoff, ' 'kickback' and ignore the facts of the case, " Fawer told the panel of 12 jurors and two alternates who come from across southeast Louisiana, including Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, Lafourche, Plaquemines and Terrebonne parishes.

Jefferson does not dispute he gave Brooks-Simms -- a longtime friend -- money, Fawer said, while acknowledging that jurors will want to know the reason why.

"It's a fair question, " he said in an opening statement that emphasized that Brooks-Simms' vote was not enough to secure the contract for JRL Enterprises, as the company needed a majority of the School Board. "It was clearly not to buy her vote."

Instead, Fawer told jurors they will find Brooks-Simms to be not only "smart and bright" but also "aggressive" and "somewhat manipulative." She had expensive tastes, was burdened by her husband's medical bills and pushed Jefferson to help her financially, Fawer said.

Both sides said recordings made by Brooks-Simms in May 2007, after she started cooperating with the FBI in their investigation, will support their version of events. Brooks-Simms pleaded guilty to taking the money later that year.

Jefferson pushed Brooks-Simms to lie to federal investigators about the money, which was captured on the wire she wore and will be played to jurors, Pickens said. "He is jumping around from one concocted story to another, " the prosecutor said about Jefferson's and Brooks-Simms' first meeting at a Home Depot on the West Bank.

But Fawer said it was Brooks-Simms who lied, "saying what the government wanted to hear." The recordings will reflect this, he said.

After opening statements, the prosecution put on the testimony of four witnesses, including two officials from the Orleans Parish school system who authenticated documents.

More critically, prosecutors called Paul Cambon with the Livingston Group, a lobbying firm set up by Bob Livingston after he left office in 1999, and John Lee, the creator of the I CAN Learn program.

Both Lee and Cambon, a former congressional aide to Livingston, laid out the extensive and expensive nature of the company's efforts to attract government purchases of the computer program, from federal earmarks to efforts to persuade local school officials to purchase the system.

The Livingston Group received monthly retainers ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 to represent JRL Enterprises in its effort to obtain money from the federal government, Cambon said. Lobbyists eventually obtained earmarks in the federal budget for the company totaling $36 million during six years.

Federal prosecutor Michael Simpson tried to draw a line between what the Livingston Group did for JRL Enterprises and Mose Jefferson's efforts.

"Did the Livingston Group ever kick back $140,000?" Simpson asked Cambon as his final question, which was cut off by the judge after Fawer objected.

Fawer's cross examination of Lee will continue today when the trial resumes.

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Laura Maggi can be reached at or 504.826.3316.

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