Tapes highlight William Jefferson's role in business deal
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Thursday July 02, 2009, 9:56 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- Secretly recorded tapes of conversations in which former Rep. William Jefferson talks about carving out shares of a new technology company for his family and of motivating a Nigerian businessman who has "a lot of folks to pay off" were the focus Thursday as the prosecution continued its public corruption case against the New Orleans Democrat.
Many of the snippets had already been made public as part of the 16-count indictment filed against Jefferson in June 2007, but several segments were extended, some at the request of the defense, adding context and other details not previously known.
For example, the Justice Department had said that Jefferson and government informant Lori Mody discussed giving the congressman's family a bigger role in the Nigerian company Mody was forming to bring a telecommunications project to the West African nation.
Jefferson is accused of using his office to promote the business deals in exchange for payments to companies controlled by his family. His attorneys say the nine-term congressman was acting as a private businessman and therefore not subject to the bribery statutes.
Who gets what
During a May 12, 2005, dinner, Jefferson talks about providing a share for "my children, " and, according to a hand-written note, resembling a tick-tack-toe box, writes "18 to 20 percent" next to "C" and outlines various other shares for others, including Mody and iGate Inc., the Kentucky firm responsible for the Nigerian venture's technological components.
But not previously provided in transcripts provided by the Justice Department are earlier comments by Mody in which she told Jefferson it didn't seem right that she was providing a 50 percent share in her Nigerian company to Brett Pfeffer, her investment adviser and former Jefferson aide, when the congressman was doing most of the work.
"I offered you 5 to 7 (percent) previously, and he was supposed to take 50 percent, and that just doesn't make any sense, " Mody said. "If you look at who's adding value here, it doesn't make any sense. If anything, it's reversed, you know? That's how I see it."
Prosecutors said Mody eventually issued stock to a company controlled by Jefferson's five daughters and his son-in-law Philip Jones that amounted to a 30 percent stake in her Nigerian company.
'All these damn notes'
Another previously disclosed excerpt from that May dinner involves the passing of notes between Jefferson and Mody.
"All these damn notes, we're writing to each other as if we're talking, as if the FBI is watching, " Jefferson said.
Mody responded with a laugh. She had been recording their conversations for the FBI beginning March 17, 2005, and continued through July 30, when she handed the congressman a briefcase with $100,000 that the FBI believed was intended for Atiku Abubakar, who was Nigeria's vice president. All but $10,000 was found a few days later in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington, D.C., home.
'A lot of folks to pay off'
In another segment, Jefferson tells Mody that Nigerian businessman Suleiman YahYah, who was partnering with them to bring the telecommunications project to the country, had to be "motivated real good."
"He's got a lot of folks to pay off, " Jefferson told Mody.
He continued: "If he's got to pay Minister X, we don't want to know. 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."
He also refers to Abubakar as "corrupt." And he tells Mody, who expresses doubt that YahYah can actually get the deal done, that the Nigerian will handle the bureaucrats on matters such as customs and visa issues, while he will deal with the "big shots."
Mody, according to prosecutors, isn't going to be called as a government witness. As a result, FBI Special Agent Timothy Thibault is introducing the tapes into evidence, although Judge T.S. Ellis III has barred him from interpreting what Mody says because he wasn't in the room when the conversations occurred.
Jefferson's attorneys have described Mody as unstable, but on tape she comes across as self-assured, and seems to adroitly bring up the issues that Thibault requested she discuss with the congressman.
For example, Thibault said he wanted Mody to bring up the possibility of doing a similar telecommunications project elsewhere, perhaps in Ghana, because by the time the FBI began investigating Jefferson in March 2005, the Nigerian project had been pretty well worked out. Thibault said he wanted to know how Jefferson operated in setting up an international deal.
As requested, in the next tape played to the jury, Mody asks Jefferson is they could use a "cookie cutter" approach -- pulling out the Nigerian model to bring the project to Ghana and elsewhere. Jefferson says that it can be done, telling her: "I know the presidents of every country in western Africa."
Thibault told the jury that after each meeting with Jefferson, he would meet Mody and collect any documents or papers that were shared during their meetings. In one instance, Thibault said, he instructed Mody not to sign the stock certificates Mody planned to give Jefferson because he hadn't yet received clearance "from headquarters" to authorize a "bribe transaction."
Hurry it up, judge says
The trial resumes Monday, with prosecutors now under pressure from Judge Ellis to speed up their case.
"We're going to move this matter along, " said Ellis, expressing his annoyance at the plodding pace of the case, and saying he was going to crack down on "cumulative" questioning by both the prosecution and defense, that is the repeating of inquiries that have already been asked and answered.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861.