|Unsealed documents in Jefferson case reveal new details|
Posted by Washington bureau July 27, 2007 8:23PM
By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau - NOLA.com
WASHINGTON -- Newly unsealed documents in the federal bribery case against Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, describe a plan to steer profits to the son of the president of Ghana and a frantic effort to get the congressman to revive a lucrative deal in Nigeria as it appeared to unravel.
The papers also state that Jefferson stored some of the of money he took from an FBI informant in soy burger boxes and other food containers in the freezer his Capitol Hill home.
For nearly two years, the Justice Department resisted legal efforts by The Times-Picayune and The Washington Post to open the records of what the FBI found when it searched Jefferson's homes in Washington and New Orleans, his car and the office of his accountant. Last week, more than a month after Jefferson was indicted by a federal grand jury, the government relented, and the documents were available for inspection Friday.
They contain no major revelations in a case that first burst into public view Aug. 4, 2005, when the FBI served its search warrants in a case that centers on Jefferson's efforts to help land African contracts for iGate Inc., a U.S. telecommunications firm. In June, the government indicted Jefferson on 16 counts of racketeering, bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice. He pleaded innocent and has vowed to clear his name in a trial scheduled for early next year.
The documents fill in some of the blanks in the story of how the government thinks Jefferson sought to profit from the African deals and how investigators see him as a central player in engineering the ventures.
The government alleges that Jefferson received more than $400,000 in bribes and millions of shares of corporate stock for helping iGate gain a foothold in Nigeria and Ghana. By 2005, it appeared that Jefferson had persuaded NITEL, the Nigerian state-owned telecommunications company, to use iGate's high-speed Internet technology, a deal he estimated would be worth $200 million or more.
But in June of that year, according to the documents, the deal appeared to be falling apart. NITEL purchased Chinese telecommunications supplies incompatible with iGate's technology. Wiretaps placed by the FBI overheard businessman Suleiman YahYah, who was the Nigerian contact with NITEL, urge iGate CEO Vernon Jackson to get Jefferson involved, the government said.
"The solution to the problem rested with Congressman Jefferson," the government wrote in its search warrant affidavit.
'Move in fast'
On June 9, 2005, YahYah told Jackson, "I believe now is the time for interceding with the VP (vice president)" of Nigeria, who had influence over NITEL.
"To make clear," YahYah is quoted in the transcripts, "the congressman, he has to move in and move in fast."
On June 21, Jefferson wrote a letter on House of Representatives stationery to Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar urging him to renew the company's commitment to iGate, a company the government alleges Jefferson partially owned. Jefferson also visited Abubakar's Maryland home to press his case, the government says. The house was part of the FBI raid.
The newly available documents also shed light on a similar telecommunications deal prosecutors say Jefferson was orchestrating in Ghana. They allege that Eddie Kufuor, son of Ghana President John Agyekum Kufuor, was to push the deal inside the government.
"Jefferson has told (the confidential witness) that is it likely the son of the president of Ghana will receive a share of the profits of a joint venture to be set up in that country in exchange for his assistance in obtaining the necessary approvals for the commencement of the business venture there," the FBI wrote in its search warrant application to search Jefferson's New Orleans home and the office of accountant Jack Swetland. Swetland has not been charged.
The documents show that Eddie Kufuor was one of those who traveled from Washington with Jefferson to Ghana, where the deal was pitched to numerous high-level government officials including the vice president and the minister of communications. Kufuor could not be reached for comment Friday.
When FBI agents raided Jefferson's Capitol Hill home, they found $90,000 in his freezer. The money had been handed to Jefferson days earlier by an FBI informant, and prosecutors have noted that the money was neatly wrapped in aluminum foil.
Documents from that search show that the money was in frozen food boxes.
According to the FBI, Jefferson placed $20,000 wrapped in foil and rubber bands inside a Boca Burger box. Boca is known for its organic soy burgers. Another $20,000 was stashed inside a Pillsbury Pie Crust box.
Three stacks of cash containing $10,000 each were found inside a bag from the local "Yes Organic Market" grocer. Two more cash bricks, a total of $20,000, were found simply wrapped in foil in the freezer.
Around his house and in his 1990 Lincoln Town Car, the FBI found numerous documents related to iGate, Nigeria and the telecommunications deal. On the coffee table of his home, agents were careful to note they found a box of Reynolds Wrap, 200 square feet.
Washington bureau reporter Bruce Alpert contributed to this story.
Bill Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 383-7817.