The William Jefferson Chronicles

William Jefferson asks for new trial on corruption conviction
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday August 12, 2009, 2:18 PM

WASHINGTON -- William Jefferson's attorneys filed a motion today asking Judge T.S. Ellis III for a new trial for the former New Orleans congressman who was convicted last week on 11 of 16 public corruption charges.

The request is unlikely to be successful, but could prompt the court to release material dealing with Lori Mody, the former Virginia businesswoman who wore a wire to secretly record conversations with Jefferson but did not appear as a witness at his trial.

A jury found Jefferson guilty on 11 counts and acquitted him on five others after seven weeks of testimony and five days of deliberation. Ellis has scheduled sentencing for Oct. 30. Lead Prosecutor Mark Lytle said sentencing guidelines, which are optional, are likely to call for Jefferson, 62, to spend 20 years in prison, though his lawyers are sure to ask for a far less severe term.

Only one paragraph of Wednesday's defense team filing was made public. In it, the lawyers ask "for a new trial," saying that the request "relies upon the points and authorities set forth in the memorandum separately filed and served under seal pursuant to court orders dated June 29, 2008 and Aug. 8, 2009."

Prosecutors declined to comment.

Just before jury selection, prosecutors revealed that Mody would not appear as a government witness, at the same time filing of documents, sealed by Ellis, which presumably provided at least a partial explanation on why she was not testifying. Ellis has said he'll strongly consider releasing all the material, but first wants to hear any objections from prosecutors.

During his opening statement to the jury, lead prosecutor Mark Lytle told jurors that they would be receiving the "best kind of evidence," tape-recorded conversations in which Jefferson pursued what Lytle said was an illegal effort to secure bribes for family-owned businesses in return for his efforts to promote business deals in Western Africa.

Jefferson's lawyers said the tapes showed that Mody, under FBI coaching, coaxed Jefferson to take a larger share in her company and to provide a bribe to the then vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar.

Jefferson's lead attorney, Robert Trout, told the jury that the former congressman did "something stupid" by taking $100,000 from Mody, to pay off the Nigerian vice president, but never had any intention of doing so. All but $10,000 was found in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington D.C. home. The rest of the money was accounted for.

Legal experts predicted that Jefferson's motion for a new trial will almost certainly fail.

"Such post-verdict motions are routinely filed and just as routinely denied," said Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor. "This is simply the first step in the funerary procession toward sentencing."

Harry Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor in New Orleans now in private practice, said the filing of requests for new trials is considered almost obligatory by many attorneys.

"It is the ultimate long shot that the court will grant a motion for a new trial, particularly because Judge Ellis would have to void the jury's verdict and basically reverse himself as to earlier rulings if the motion turns on the Mody issues," Rosenberg said.

Jefferson was found guilty of bribery, conspiracy, racketeering and honest services fraud, but acquitted of the charge related to the money in the freezer, for which the case is best known.

Prosecutors said the money Jefferson ran out of time to deliver the money when the FBI raided his New Orleans and Washington homes in August, 2005, a little more than three weeks before Hurricane Katrina struck.

But the jury apparently didn't buy the prosecution's argument.

Bruce Alpert can be reached at or 202.383.7861.

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