Stephanie Grace: Mose Jefferson -- Consultant or conspirator
by Stephanie Grace, Columnist, The Times-Picayune
Monday July 20, 2009, 10:16 PM
By now, most New Orleanians are pretty familiar with the story of Mose Jefferson.
The longtime political operative and older brother of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson is the subject of two separate federal indictments in the Eastern District of Louisiana. One accuses him of bribing a former Orleans Parish School Board president to buy an educational software package, and the other puts him at the center of a conspiracy to pillage taxpayer-funded charities.
Up in Alexandria, Va., where Bill Jefferson is in the midst of his own bribery and public corruption trial, Mose Jefferson is starting to make an impression as well, even though he hasn't taken the witness stand or even set foot in the courtroom.
When Bill Jefferson, perhaps Congress' leading expert on African trade, would negotiate deals to help investors get set up in various African countries, Mose Jefferson was often lurking in the shadows, according to the prosecution's lengthy case.
He'd sometimes show up at key meetings where compensation was discussed, according to witnesses. And sometimes, they said, Bill Jefferson would simply demand that Mose be given a percentage or a "consulting" fee. Some of these deals came to pass and some didn't, but prosecutors say all of them were designed to funnel kickbacks to the Jefferson family in exchange for the congressman's help.
Baton Rouge lobbyist James Creaghan, who has been granted immunity, told the jury he conspired to pay "bribes" to Mose Jefferson in connection with three projects, a fertilizer plant in Nigeria, garbage-to-energy incinerators for New Orleans and oil drilling rights off the coast of Sao Tome and Principe in West Africa. In the last deal, he said, Bill Jefferson was supposed to help resolve a dispute over drilling rights, and a Mose Jefferson-controlled company was to receive the rights to one disputed lot.
Mose Jefferson was also slated to get 3 percent of the fertilizer deal proceeds, according to testimony from Folsom executive John Melton, although Bill Jefferson allegedly attempted to wrangle an up-front payment for his brother as well.
Thomas Hardy, an official with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, said he had never seen a member of Congress take such an active interest in a deal as Bill Jefferson did in the fertilizer project. Had he known Mose stood to benefit financially, Hardy said he would have reported the arrangement to the agency's lawyers as "an explicit conflict of interest, a congressman advocating for a project when he or his family had a financial stake."
Rex Mars, the former manager of a Texas oil pipeline firm, told the jury Creaghan asked the company to cut Mose Jefferson in to one deal, to the tune of $10,000 a month, in exchange for Bill Jefferson's help.
"I asked him if he was out of his expletive mind, " Mars testified.
Then there was the Nigerian sugar deal, in which Mose Jefferson was given a 4-percent cut in exchange for consulting services, an arrangement that George Knost, the president of Baton Rouge-based Arkel International, described on the stand as a "very clear prerequisite" to get Bill Jefferson's assistance. Deborah Haggard, who was Arkel Sugar's vice president when the deal was struck in 2001, said she only heard from Mose Jefferson when it was time to get paid.
"To the best of my knowledge, he didn't do anything, " she said. The company cut Mose Jefferson three checks totaling about $21,000 before the deal "fell by the wayside, " Haggard said.
The defense has been doing its best to dispute all this damning testimony, variously portraying Mose Jefferson as an expert in his own right, a man with as many valuable contacts as his congressman brother or a dealmaker who charged companies finder's fees. They paint a portrait of a multi-talented, very busy renaissance man, with much to contribute to a host of different types of endeavors.
The prosecution, meanwhile, wants jurors to believe that Mose Jefferson has just one thing to offer: a brother in a powerful position who wasn't afraid to cash in on it.
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Stephanie Grace is a staff writer. She may be reached at 504.826.3383 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.