|The Companies They Keep: Congressman Jefferson, family, and friends|
Posted on Monday, June 19, 2006.
By Ken Silverstein.
I know I've written several articles on Congressman William Jefferson (nickname: “Dollar Bill”) and his ties to several small oil-rich African countries, but please indulge me once more. I've learned that Rep. Jefferson's brother Archie L. Jefferson solicited business in São Tomé a few years ago. Not long after that, his brother was meeting with São Toméan president Fradique de Menezes to discuss business opportunities for American firms in the tiny African island country. I've also uncovered interesting details about how several of Rep. Jefferson's key aides and close family members are tied to small, previously undisclosed energy companies.
Let's start with Archie, a man with a great deal of legal experience as both a lawyer and a defendant. He began practicing law in 1987 and, according to stories in the Louisiana press, was temporarily disbarred a few years later for violations that “included using clients' money and settling cases without clients' knowledge.” According to one story, Archie didn't dispute the charges but accounted for his bad behavior by saying that “he was dealing with a drug problem.” Since then, news accounts say, Archie has: pleaded guilty to making a false statement on a credit application; been found guilty of practicing law without a license; and has been convicted of three counts of “issuing worthless checks.” In 2004 the Louisiana Supreme Court permanently disbarred Archie, citing “indisputable evidence of a fundamental lack of moral character and fitness.”
You probably know by now that Archie's congressman brother, William, is currently under investigation by the FBI for allegedly taking a bribe from the owner of iGate Inc. to arrange deals for that company in Nigeria and other African countries. According to court records, the FBI is also looking into “at least seven other schemes in which Jefferson sought things of value in return for his official acts.”
I've already written about Jefferson's ties to the island nation of São Tomé. And now, a source has told me, the FBI has learned that at some time between February and April 2002 Archie Jefferson wrote a letter to a senior government official in São Tomé in which he identified himself as managing director of a firm called The Jefferson Group. In his letter, Archie offered The Jefferson Group's services, for a fee, in helping manage and oversee the construction of roads, harbors, medical facilities, and telecommunications installations in São Tomé. (I found no record of The Jefferson Group on file at the Louisiana Secretary of State's office. It may have been a generic term.)
Other members of the Jefferson family have had a hand in dozens and dozens of small-business ventures over the years, some still active and many long defunct. But Archie Jefferson is remarkable for being a serial entrepreneur—a Louisiana database lists him as Director, Manager, or Registered Agent for a remarkable number of corporations, from “Fresh Manna, Inc.” to a mental health clinic. Over the years he has formed companies with various members of congressman Jefferson's family and staff, including Angela Coleman, his campaign treasurer. (At the same time that he was pitching the São Tomé deal, a source told me, Archie had a telecommunications venture that included the participation of Jefferson's wife, Andrea, and Jamila Jefferson, one of the couple's five daughters.)
Archie's letter to the São Tomé official made no direct reference to the congressman, but government officials there already knew Jefferson well, both because of his role as co-chair of Congress's Africa Trade and Investment Caucus and because he had visited the country in 2000. Jefferson was also a leading backer of the African Oil Policy Initiative Group, which called for the United States to increase energy imports from Africa. In Washington on January 25, 2002, he spoke at a symposium supported by the group and called for stronger ties to West African oil producers, who, Jefferson said, were America's “best [energy] partners” because of their “commitment to democracy.” That's an astonishing statement given that the West African regimes rank among the most corrupt on earth.
Four days after his speech in Washington, Jefferson's old friend Jack Swetland was listed as the registered agent for two new New Orleans firms, Providence International Petroleum Company and Providence International Construction Company. (Stephanie Edwards Butler, the manager of the two firms, ran Jefferson's law office before he joined Congress and has been his district manager in New Orleans ever since he took office.) As I previously reported, President Fradique de Menezes of São Tomé met with Jefferson at least four times between 2002 and 2003. A source told me that their first meeting was on May 14, 2002, a few months after Archie wrote his letter, and was held in the congressman's Washington office.
Jack Swetland is an accountant who has long handled Jefferson's campaign and business finances. Swetland, according to a Times-Picayune report of August 4, 2005, has also managed the campaign finances of a number of Jefferson's closest political allies, including several of Jefferson's relatives. In August of 2005, when the FBI raided Jefferson's home in Washington (where they found $90,000 in a freezer), federal agents simultaneously raided Swetland's New Orleans office and home.
There are a number of other New Orleans firms tied to Congressman Jefferson's close associates, and Jack Swetland seems to be key. He was the registered agent for Worldwide Energy and Environmental Resources, which was founded in March 2003, as well as for the ANJ Group, which was founded in January 2001. The manager of the ANJ Group is listed as Andrea, the congressman's wife; Jamila Jefferson and her four sisters are reportedly company members, too. The owner of iGate has said that he paid Jefferson more than $400,000 between 2001 and 2005 to promote his business in Africa, and that the money was funneled through ANJ Group.
I've suggested in past posts that federal investigators were examining Jefferson's ties to São Tomé and to companies doing business there—in particular ERHC, the controversial firm that has a large stake in São Tomé's oil fields. A woman named Noreen Wilson has worked closely with ERHC and is the president of a Louisiana-registered company called GEEC, which also has ties to Jefferson. People affiliated with those two firms have made at least $17,500 in political contributions to Jefferson.
Remember Worldwide Energy and Environmental Resources, which is linked to Swetland? The manager of that firm is Jamila Jefferson's husband, Phillip E. Jones Jr, who is also listed as a member of a firm called OPEC LLC, which was created in January of 2005 (with offices at Jones Jr's home address). Phil C. Nugent, another member of Jones Jr's OPEC LLC, is the registered agent for GEEC. Nugent's father, Phil H. Nugent, is an oil and gas consultant and a long-time shareholder and booster of ERHC.
Anecdotal evidence shows that the relationship between the Jefferson family and ERHC-GEEC is more than casual. In September 2005, a month after the FBI raid on Rep. Jefferson, Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans. Jamila Jefferson fled for safety to a home in Merritt Island, Florida, according to contact information she posted on a website run by her old sorority house at Harvard, Delta Sigma Theta. Property records show that Jamila's temporary refuge in Merritt Island is owned by Noreen Wilson's husband, William Wilson, a man who kicked in $4,000 of the campaign contributions to Congressman Jefferson cited above.
It's not clear exactly what the Jefferson-linked firms I've mentioned here were up to or how successful they were —I left messages for Swetland, Butler, Jamila Jefferson, and her husband and didn't hear back, and when I told Archie Jefferson I wanted to talk to him about his business plans in São Tomé he declined comment. But the names of the firms make patently clear that they were in the energy business, and we know that a number of the people involved shared Congressman Jefferson's interests in Africa.
It's been reported that at least two Jefferson staffers—each of whom had a management role at small Louisiana companies—have been subpoenaed by federal investigators. First is Stephanie Edwards Butler, who managed the two Providence firms mentioned above. Also subpoenaed is Ericka Edwards, who is related to Stephanie Edwards Butler and, based on their difference in age, might be her daughter. Ericka joined Jefferson's Louisiana staff last year and is the listed manager for International Petroleum LLC, which was formed on May 24, 2002—ten days after the congressman met with São Tomé's president in his congressional office. I expect we will learn more about these companies as the Jefferson investigation continues.