Nigerian wanted a cut, tape says
Unsealed probe records quote
Jefferson identify vice president
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
By Bill Walsh
and Bruce Alpert,Washington bureau - NOLA.com
WASHINGTON -- Rep. William Jefferson told a business associate that the vice president of Nigeria was demanding half the profits of a telecommunications partnership the congressman was involved with, according to court records unsealed Monday.
An alleged plan to bribe Atiku Abubakar to exert influence over the Nigerian state phone company NiTel had been alluded to in earlier court documents in the 15-month federal investigation of Jefferson, but the vice president had not previously been identified by name.
Prompted by separate lawsuits filed by The Washington Post and The Times-Picayune, judges in Maryland and Louisiana agreed to unseal parts of the FBI documents filed to support the Aug. 3 search of Abubakar's home in Potomac, Md., Jefferson's residences in New Orleans and Washington, and the New Orleans office of the congressman's accountant Jack Swetland.
Jefferson, D-New Orleans, has not been charged and has denied taking bribes to perform his public duties. His attorney declined to comment Monday.
Abubakar's attorney said the vice president has done nothing wrong and continues to cooperate with federal authorities in their investigation. Edward Weidenfeld said Abubakar had met with Jefferson out of the courtesy given between elected officials of different countries, but that was the extent of their relationship.
Another target identified
The court documents include excerpts of wiretap recordings of Jefferson's conversations with Lori Mody, a wealthy northern Virginian who was secretly working for the FBI.
One of the surprises in the court records opened Monday was the name of another target in the case: Suleiman YahYah, chairman and CEO of Rosecom.Net, an Internet service provider in Nigeria. Rosecom was to have been the Nigerian partner for Mody's company, which was called W2IBBS Ltd.
According to the transcripts, Jefferson told Mody that Abubakar was demanding 50 percent of the profits earned by YahYah's company. Jefferson said Abubakar had made the demand during a private one-hour meeting at the vice president's home.
"We have a deal with him," he told Mody.
He also told her in a separate wiretapped call that YahYah was critical to the success of the venture in Nigeria.
"We need him," Jefferson told her over dinner in Washington. "We got to motivate him real good. He's got a lot of folks to pay off."
Jefferson told Mody that it was best that the two of them didn't know what YahYah was up to.
"If he's gotta pay Minister X, we don't want to know," Jefferson said. "It's not our deal. We're not paying Minister X a damn thing. That's all, you know, international fraud crap. We're not doing that. . . . Whatever they do locally, that's their business."
Marked cash found
According to the affidavit used to search the vice president's house, the FBI expected to find a $100,000 cash bribe in a reddish-brown briefcase that Mody had given Jefferson. The cash was to guarantee Abukakar's cooperation, to ensure "the little hook is in there," according to wiretap transcripts.
A day later the FBI intercepted Jefferson's cell phone signal in the vicinity of Abubakar's home. And later, Jefferson assured Mody that he had given the money to Abubakar, referring to it as "African art."
But $90,000 of the cash, marked by investigators, was found in a freezer at Jefferson's Capitol Hill home during the August raid. A reddish-brown briefcase was found by the FBI during the search of Jefferson's New Orleans home on Marengo Street the same day.
The FBI says Jefferson was using his influence to help a small Kentucky firm, iGate Inc., launch its novel high-speed Internet technology in Nigeria. In exchange, the FBI says, Jefferson sought shares of iGate and cash payments funneled to companies set up in the names of his wife and five daughters.
In all, the government says Jefferson received more than $400,000, millions of shares of iGate and a 30 percent share of Mody's Nigerian company set up to run the operation overseas. In their search of his New Orleans home, FBI agents found a certificate showing that Global Energy & Environmental Services LLC, which Jefferson said he set up on behalf of his daughters, owned 1.5 million shares of Mody's Nigerian firm.
Records name daughter
For the first time, court records name Jamila Jefferson, one of the congressman's daughters, as the lawyer who Jefferson insisted do the legal work to set up Mody's Nigerian company. Mody paid the law firm Jamila Jefferson worked for "thousands of dollars for legal work," court records say.
The documents also suggest that Rep. Jefferson was involved with more than telecommunications deals in West Africa. In taped conversations, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer told Mody that Jefferson would want a share of another company, Enterprise Information Management Inc., a Virginia information technology firm that he also had agreed to help. According to a wiretap transcript, Pfeffer told Mody on March 31, 2005, that Jefferson was in the Middle East to help EIM. Records show he was traveling in Egypt and Qatar at the time.
"He would want a piece of EIM if something happens," Pfeffer told Mody, who had agreed to invest $3.2 million in the company. "You know he ain't going over there to be nice to me and Bruce" Lyman, president of EIM.
Mody then asked what Jefferson would want.
"You'd probably have to put his brother-in-law on the payroll, or something. I don't know," Pfeffer said. "I mean, who knows. You know, Bruce says we'll take care of him any way we have to take care of him. I mean, he won't ask for anything crazy. He knows. . . . He's a businessman."
EIM's Lyman could not be reached for comment.
Pfeffer pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit bribery and abetting bribery of a public official. Last month a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison, although he is expected to serve less because he is cooperating with investigators.
Jefferson, Pfeffer and iGate CEO Vernon Jackson had been named as targets of the federal probe in documents released weeks ago. Jackson also has pleaded guilty and is cooperating but has not been sentenced.
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Bill Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 383-7817. Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7861.