William Jefferson tape cites Nigerian leader's role
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Monday July 06, 2009, 9:20 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- On July 18, 2005, with an undercover FBI agent behind the wheel and an FBI cooperating witness wired for sound sitting by his side, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson said that Vice President Atiku Abubakar of Nigeria had agreed to grease the skids for a telecommunications venture the congressman was promoting in Nigeria in exchange for a piece of the action, according to tapes played at the corruption trial of the former nine-term congressman from New Orleans.
The taped conversation came on the ride back from a one-on-one meeting between Jefferson and Abubakar at a home the former Nigerian vice president owns in Potomac, Md., an upscale suburb of Washington, D.C. The jurors are provided with written transcripts of the tapes, but the news media and other observers are not. On the tape and others played Monday, Jefferson, who speaks in his usual low, rushed mumble, was often barely audible.
In his opening argument, Jefferson's lead attorney, Robert Trout, insisted that "no one bribed William Jefferson and William Jefferson didn't bribe anyone." He said that statements now being used against Jefferson were simply meant to mollify Lori Mody, the Virginia businesswoman who had become Jefferson's partner in a Nigerian venture to distribute copper-wire broadband technology. The technology had been developed by iGate, a small Kentucky telecommunications firm, which Jefferson had championed and which, by June 2005, according to other tapes played Monday, he was trying to wrest control of on behalf of his family, using Mody's money.
On that July day, Jefferson had traveled to Potomac with Mody, who by then was a cooperating witness for the FBI.
Jefferson had in late June sent a packet of information about the Nigeria deal to Abubakar and his fourth wife, Jamilah Jennifer Abubakar, who was living in the Potomac home. The packet included information as to how enormously profitable the Nigerian venture could be, with an estimated cumulative return of nearly $718 million by year five. In the packet, Jefferson also touted the good the Internet service would provide to Abubakar's "beloved country, " and indicated he was "soliciting" Abubakar's "advice and support in moving this project forward."
Vice president pitches in
In an earlier recording, Jefferson told Mody that "the Mrs." Abubakar had arranged the meeting (though she did not attend). Jefferson asked whether Mody could get someone to drive them to the Potomac meeting, and the FBI obliged with an undercover agent.
After the private meeting with Abubakar, Jefferson reported to Mody, in Abubakar's presence, that the vice president had agreed to secure the necessary approval from the Nigerian telecommunications authority. Later, on the ride home, according to the tapes, Jefferson said Abubakar expected a piece of the profits in exchange. Jefferson can be heard on the tape saying they would "get directions on what to do later."
The trial is building toward its climactic moment, in which, according to the 16-count indictment against Jefferson, on July 30, 2005, in a parking lot outside the Ritz Carlton in Arlington, Va., he accepted a briefcase from Mody with $100,000 in bills marked by the FBI. That money, the prosecution maintains, was the down payment on a bribe to Abubakar.
However, when FBI agents raided Jefferson's homes in Washington and New Orleans on Aug. 3, 2005, and the Abubakar home in Potomac, they found $90,000 of the money, undelivered, safely stored away in the freezer of Jefferson's Capitol Hill home.
Agent acted as coach
The prosecution has chosen not to call Mody as a witness and so it has fallen on Timothy Thibault, the FBI special agent in charge of the Jefferson investigation, to explain the background behind each tape. Thibault has also detailed how he coached Mody before each encounter with the congressman. By June 2005, Thibault testified, the FBI was working to keep the Nigerian deal on track "to give us enough time to gather evidence." They also coached Mody to push Jefferson to undertake a similar joint venture in Ghana.
"We wanted to see what the congressman's office would do overseas to promote business deals like the one he was involved in Nigeria, " Thibault said.
At a dinner June 8, 2005, at the Four Seasons Hotel, Mody pressed Jefferson on Ghana.
"If you want to go to Ghana, my dear, we'll go to Ghana, " said Jefferson, on a recording of the $420 dinner, though on advice of the FBI she did not ultimately join him on that trip in early July.
At that same dinner, conversation that is hard to hear over piano renditions of "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Honeysuckle Rose" reveals that Mody signed her copy of the joint venture between the company she was setting up in Nigeria -- W2-IBBS -- and a Nigerian firm, Rosecom, that Jefferson had recommended. When Mody expressed some excitement after signing the document, Jefferson could be heard to say, "quite an adventure."
Also at that dinner, a video shows Mody presenting Jefferson with a stock certificate for 1.5 million shares of W2-IBBS, a 30 percent share, in the name of Global Energy and Environmental LLC, a company controlled by Jefferson's five daughters and son-in-law Phillip Jones, as well as a certificate for 500,000 shares of the venture for iGate. Thibault said both certificates were found in the raid of Jefferson's New Orleans home on Aug. 3.
On the recording, Mody also tells Jefferson she plans to set up for him a "discretionary expense account" -- Thibault called it a "discretionary bribe fund" -- of between $200,000 and $1 million, so that Jefferson would have "that tool in your pocket."
At a subsequent June 17 breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Jefferson asks Mody for $7 million so that the ANJ Group -- controlled and named for his wife and daughters -- could buy a controlling share of iGate.
The government describes ANJ as a front meant to disguise Jefferson's role in profiting from actions he was taking as a congressman.
In another tape played Monday, Jefferson tells Mody, "I'm in the shadows behind the curtains somewhere."
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861. Jonathan Tilove can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7827.