Technology is focus in trial of former Rep. William Jefferson
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Friday June 26, 2009, 10:51 AM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Jurors in the corruption trial of former Rep. William Jefferson heard testimony this morning about the New Orleans congressman's efforts to promote the broadband technology of iGate Inc.
Harold Waltzman, who was the telecommunications counsel for the U.S. House Energy Committee in 2002 when Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, was chairman, testified about a letter Tauzin signed endorsing iGate's efforts to provide the Internet via copper wiring, making it more accessible and affordable in poor and rural areas.
But, Waltzman, said he probably would not have recommended Tauzin send out the letter if he had known that Jefferson and his family had a stake in the company. Even if the technology passed all the tests, Wolpzman said, he would be opposed because of the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Jefferson, a Democrat who served nine terms in Congress before being defeated last year, is facing a 16-count indictment on bribery, racketeering, conspiracy and other charges connected to his role in helping companies land contracts in Africa. His defense attorneys say Jefferson was acting as a private businessman and is not guilty of trading on his office in exchange for bribes.
Waltzman testified that Jefferson's congressional staff had requested a meeting with Tauzin that also included iGate CEO Vernon Jackson and Jack White, a company representative in Washington.
He said Jefferson introduced Jackson who then made a presentation about his company and the technology it was developing. Waltzman said Tauzin asked him to do more research into the work.
Waltzman said he viewed another presentation and then went to Fort Stewart, Ga., where he observed the technology in action. He said he was impressed with the speed in downloading videos and high-resolution photos. On that basis he recommended that Tauzin issue a letter supporting iGate's efforts.
He said Jackson and Jefferson later called separately and asked about the letter and when it might be issued. Waltzman said Jefferson asked Wolpzman to edit a sample letter that Jackson had written.
Asked about the worth of the letter, Waltzman said he thought it would carry "considerable weight," given Tauzin's well-known passion for bring the Internet to under-served rural areas.
That was similar to the pitch that Jefferson and Jackson made in Nigeria, according to earlier witnesses. Carrying the Internet over copper wiring would make it available to any home with electricity instead of requiring new cable or fiber optic hook-ups.
The trial is expected to wrap up its third week with continued testimony this afternoon.