William Jefferson corruption trial shifts to other 'schemes'
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Thursday July 09, 2009, 10:12 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- After more than three weeks of testimony about William Jefferson's efforts to bring telecommunications projects to western Africa in return for what prosecutors labeled bribes, the jury Thursday heard about several of the other 11 alleged schemes in the corruption indictment against the nine-term former congressman.
The trial, which began on June 9 with jury selection, finally appears to be moving closer to completion. Lead prosecutor Mark Lytle said he hopes to finish the government's case on July 17 or July 20.
Depending on whether the defense chooses to bring its own case, including possible testimony by Jefferson, the jury could begin deliberations by early August.
On Thursday, prosecutors said the story of Baton Rouge-based Arkel International's involvement with Jefferson is similar to what the jury had heard about Jefferson's efforts to bring iGate Inc.'s telecommunications technology to western Africa. Jefferson was willing to provide assistance, but only if a family-owned business was provided with money, prosecutors said.
George Knost, Arkel's president, testified that he had a meeting in the fall of 2000 with Jefferson, the governor of the state of Jigawa in Nigeria, the congressman's brother Mose Jefferson and Renee Gill Pratt, then a state representative and longtime girlfriend of Mose Jefferson.
Knost said the meeting was to discuss a sugar plant Arkel hoped to build in Nigeria. After the meeting, in the parking lot of the company's Baton Rouge office, Knost said the congressman told him that Arkel would need to hire Mose Jefferson as a consultant.
It was a "very clear prerequisite" to get Jefferson's assistance with the Nigeria deal, Knost said.
Asked what would happen had he turned down the request, Knost told the lead prosecutor: "I would expect him to give me no assistance."
4% cut to consultant
Knost said he agreed to a consulting contract that would pay Mose Jefferson's company, Providence International LLC, a 4 percent share of contracts landed because of its contacts, which the Baton Rouge businessman said he took to mean "Congressman Jefferson's efforts." He said William Jefferson had close contacts with western African leaders.
But under cross-examination by Jefferson attorney Gloria Solomon, Knost admitted in his first several interviews with prosecutors, and in his 2007 testimony to the grand jury, after he had signed an immunity deal, he hadn't mentioned that Jefferson had told him he would have to give a contract to Mose Jefferson to get the congressman's help during their first meeting in the fall of 2000.
Knost also said it's true, as Solomon suggested, that the governor of Jigawa state of Nigeria had arrived for their 2000 meeting with Mose Jefferson, who knew him as well as his former partner, the then president of Arkel Sugar, now deceased.
During his direct testimony, Knost said he sent memos to Mose Jefferson thanking him for his efforts on his company's behalf. But he said he intended them to "disguise" his relationship with William Jefferson, which he considered "illegal."
Search of Jefferson's home
The jury also heard Thursday from FBI Special Agent Lisa Horner, who testified about documents found in Jefferson's New Orleans home during the Aug. 3, 2005, search. One referred to a contract between WorldSpace Inc. and the ANJ Group, controlled by Jefferson's wife, Andrea, and their five children, for helping the company sell educational broadcasts to Africa.
Another provided similar benefits to another Jefferson family company for helping LETH Energy, now known as Global Environmental Energy Corp., market garbage recycling incinerators in Africa and elsewhere.
Among other things, the document described by Horner called for the family-owned business to be paid 18.75 percent of the profits for incinerators sold in the United States. The payout would be even bigger for incinerators built in New Orleans, 25 percent of all profits, according to the document.
Records show the Port of New Orleans agreed to purchase an incinerator from the company, but it was never built.
Horner also provided details about the Aug. 3, 2005, search of Jefferson's New Orleans home, which occurred simultaneously to searches of the congressman's Washington, D.C., home, his car, the offices of iGate Inc., and the Potomac, Md., home of then-Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his fourth wife, Jennifer Douglas Abubakar.
The operation was massive. Horner said 21 agents participated, spending from 10 a.m. to past 5 p.m., looking for documents, eventually leaving with 1,400 pages of material.
Papers slipped into bag
Another FBI special agent, Stacey Kent, said Jefferson decided to stay in his home, after being questioned for more than two hours by two fellow FBI agents, and even cooked breakfast for his wife, Andrea, and one of his five daughters who was home at the time.
Kent said that after breakfast, Jefferson asked for a copy of the subpoena, which she watched him fold in with other papers. She said he then tucked the documents under his elbow.
Kent said Jefferson then asked whether he and his two family members could move from the kitchen to a more comfortable spot in a nearby room, where she watched him sit down in a recliner and slip the papers into a bag.
Kent said she told Jefferson that she would need to see the papers, but that he told her it was only the subpoena.
She persisted and he eventually turned over the papers, which consisted of two faxes sent that morning from B.K. Son, an iGate executive whose name was listed on the government search warrant.
Kent said the faxes were then collected as evidence. In the 16-count indictment against him, Jefferson is charged with a single count of obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to hide the fax.
Defense attorneys have said that it was an inadvertent act; Jefferson had the fax in his hand and unintentionally put it with the subpoena.
Defense attorney Amy Jackson, in questioning Kent, got her to agree that Jefferson had cooperated with the search.
Jackson also said the subpoena handed Jefferson that morning gave him time to turn over certain documents, including material related to B.K. Son.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861.