The William Jefferson Chronicles

Mose Jefferson was out to help a friend, his attorney says
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Friday August 14, 2009, 8:40 PM

Mose Jefferson's taped suggestion that former Orleans Parish School Board President Ellenese Brooks-Simms orchestrate a cover story for the $140,000 he gave her should be interpreted as an effort to help get her out of trouble with federal authorities, defense attorney Michael Fawer suggested Friday.

In his last hour and a half of questioning prosecutors' key witness, Fawer focused on two recordings made by Brooks-Simms -- with the help of an FBI wire -- of conversations with Jefferson in May 2007, after federal authorities had started taking a look at their financial relationship.

Jefferson gave Brooks-Simms $140,000 in three checks from December 2003 to January 2004, channeling the money to the School Board member through her daughter, Stacy Simms, and another woman.

During earlier testimony, prosecutors emphasized passages of the recorded conversations that showed Jefferson repeatedly instructing Brooks-Simms to talk to the two women used to cash the checks, telling them to get on board with a cover story that they had worked for him. These conversations led to Jefferson being charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, accused of trying to persuade Brooks-Simms to lie to federal authorities.

Jefferson, the older brother of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, also faces charges of bribery -- for the payments made to Brooks-Simms -- and money laundering.

Fawer framed the conversation differently than the prosecution, pointing to passages where Mose Jefferson is talking about the investigation as a problem for Brooks-Simms, who, the attorney noted, was the elected official suspected of wrongdoing. Jefferson is heard saying that he would be willing to tell the FBI that he hired Simms and the other woman whose name was on a check, Rosa Dickerson.

"He, perhaps stupidly, is saying he is willing to say things to the agents that are not true, " Fawer said during the fourth day of testimony in U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon's courtroom.

Brooks-Simms countered Fawer's suggestion that the cover stories were devised solely to get her out of hot water with federal authorities, noting that early on in her first conversation with Jefferson he tells her not to be frightened of the federal agents. "You can't be scared because you got my back, " he said.

That shows he wanted her protection as well, she said.

Fawer noted there are several times during the second recorded conversation where Jefferson directly tells Brooks-Simms he did not give her a bribe. Brooks-Simms never corrected him, he said.

"Here is your opportunity to nail him to the wall, " Fawer said. "But you didn't say it?"

Brooks-Simms acknowledged she did not.

During about six hours of cross-examination over two days, Fawer repeatedly emphasized the fact that Brooks-Simms received a plea deal that reduces the amount of prison time she will face in exchange for her cooperation. Brooks-Simms in 2007 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

The defense attorney repeatedly sought to cast doubt about Brooks-Simms' credibility, noting she had lied to many people, including, at one point, the FBI. Brooks-Simms responded that she lied once to the FBI, but since has been truthful, emphasizing that is a condition of her plea agreement.

Prosecutors on Friday took turns hammering away at Fawer's explanation that Jefferson gave Brooks-Simms the $140,000 essentially as a gift, to help a longtime friend out of a financial bind.

During his redirect questioning of Brooks-Simms, assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone caustically asked what would make the former School Board member worthy of such a generous gift.

"Are you a secret family member of Mose Jefferson?, " he asked Brooks-Simms. "Did you ever give him a kidney?"

She answered, "No, " to both questions.

Later, prosecutors questioned Eddy Oliver, a longtime friend of Jefferson's who also signed the checks for one his corporations, including two of the checks that Brooks-Simms received.

After getting Oliver to describe the closeness of his relationship with Jefferson -- the two men spent time together nearly every day -- assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens asked Oliver if he had ever received $140,000 from his friend. Oliver was not allowed to answer the question after an objection from Fawer.

On Friday, jurors also heard from two other witnesses who have pleaded guilty in connection with the case: Stacy Simms, who set up a bank account to allow her mother to cash $100,000 worth of checks, and businessman Burnell Moliere, who through a series of financial transactions cashed the final $40,000 check.

Moliere's testimony will continue on Monday.

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Laura Maggi can be reached at or 504.826.3316.

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