The William Jefferson Chronicles

Mose Jefferson's defense attorney finishes questioning Ellenese Brooks-Simms
by Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
Friday August 14, 2009, 12:24 PM

Mose Jefferson's taped suggestions to devise a story to cover $140,000 he gave former Orleans Parish School Board President Ellenese Brooks-Simms was an effort to help get her out of trouble with federal authorities, defense attorney Michael Fawer asserted today.

During the final hour-and-a-half of Brooks-Simms' cross-examination, Fawer focused on the two recordings she made of conversations with Jefferson in May 2007. Brooks-Simms met with Jefferson twice while wearing a wire that FBI agents placed on her.

Jefferson, a longtime political operative in New Orleans who is the older brother of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, is accused of giving Brooks-Simms bribes in exchange for her support for an algebra tutorial he was attempting to sell to the school board.

Fawer pointed out that Jefferson repeatedly advised Brooks-Simms not to lie to a grand jury, while also questioning whether it was the former elected official who had the most to fear from a federal probe.

Prosecutors in earlier testimony focused on passages of the two recorded conversations, which ran a total of two hours and 20 minutes, that showed Jefferson instructing Brooks-Simms to make sure her daughter, Stacy Simms, and a friend, Rosa Dickerson, agreed on a cover story to disguise three payments he made to her. The checks were written out to those women, at Brooks-Simms' instruction, but the former board member received the money.

During the last part of his long cross-examination, Fawer this morning pointed out passages where Jefferson is framing the investigation as a problem for Brooks-Simms, who, the attorney noted, was the elected official who allegedly had done something wrong. Jefferson is heard saying that he would be willing to tell the FBI that he hired Stacy Simms and Dickerson.

"He, perhaps stupidly, is saying he is willing to say things to the agents that are not true," Fawer said.

Brooks-Simms countered Fawer's suggestion that the cover stories were devised to give her a lie to tell the FBI, noting a passage from early on in her first conversation with Jefferson. He tells her not to be frightened of the federal agents, saying, "You can't be scared because you got my back."

That shows he wanted her protection, she said.

During about six hours of cross-examination, 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.

Fawer also 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.

Jefferson acknowledges giving Brooks-Simms money, Fawer has said. However, Fawer said, the money was never intended as a bribe, but as help to Brooks-Simms when she was in a financial bind.

During prosecutors' redirect this morning, assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone caustically responded to the the assertion the $140,000 worth of payments were gifts.

"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.

Stacy Simms took the stand directly after her mother, testifying to her role in cashing two checks that Jefferson had given Brooks-Simms.

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