William Jefferson trial attorneys quarrel on Customs report
by Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune
Monday July 20, 2009, 9:02 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- Judge T.S. Ellis III said he likely will decide Wednesday whether to drop any of the charges in the 16-count federal corruption indictment of former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson.
Ellis asked Jefferson's lead attorney Monday to submit, preferably in writing, what charges he believes should be dropped. With the prosecution now scheduled to complete its case this afternoon, defense attorney Robert Trout said he would make his submission Wednesday morning.
Under federal criminal procedures, a judge is governed by the following guideline: If "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt" the charge is not dismissed.
Jefferson is accused of seeking bribes in exchange for using his office to help promote deals in Africa. He has said he was operating as a private businessman and therefore not subject to the bribe statutes.
More than an hour of Monday's trial session was spent in arguments about whether prosecutors could submit a report from the U.S. Customs Service that Nigerian telecommunications executive Otunba Fasawe on Sept. 19, 2003, brought in Nigerian currency through Washington's Dulles Airport that Fasawe said had a value of $50,000 in U.S. currency.
Prosecutor Charles Duross said the report gives some credence to earlier testimony by a former Fasawe partner, Dumebi Kachikwu, who testified he had been told that Fasawe brought in cash -- he pegged the amount at about 100,000 U.S. dollars -- as a bribe to Jefferson.
Kachikwu said that Fasawe told him that Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar wanted Jefferson's help in getting the Democratic Party to support his run for his country's presidency in 2007, a race Abubakar lost.
Trout argued that there was no evidence that any money reportedly brought into the United States was paid to Jefferson, and that submitting the Customs' information would be prejudicial to Jefferson.
But Ellis rejected the argument, saying it would be up to the jury to determine the importance of the information.
Customs' official Tony Lazada told the jury that the currency Fasawe brought through the airport was never counted, and that Fasawe was allowed to leave the airport with the money after completing the customs process.
Earlier Monday, James Creaghan, a Baton Rouge lobbyist who has testified that he was involved in bribe schemes with Jefferson, faced tough cross-examination from Jefferson attorney Amy Jackson.
If he knew it was illegal to ask companies to pay off Jefferson's brother, Mose, to get the congressman's help -- as Creaghan had testified -- why would he make that demand in his first contact with business executives and investors, Jackson asked Creaghan.
"I really don't know how to answer that question, " replied Creaghan, who is testifying against Jefferson as a part of a deal with the government to avoid prosecution.
According to testimony Friday, Creaghan made that demand on Jefferson's behalf when Noreen Wilson, a Florida investor, wanted the congressman's help in resolving a dispute over oil-drilling rights for parcels off the coast of the West African nation of Sao Tome and Principe. She agreed to give Mose Jefferson one of three disputed drilling lots in exchange for the congressman's help, Creaghan said.
But when Jackson pressed Creaghan on a similar arrangement on a second deal with Wilson involving garbage-to-energy incinerators, Creaghan attempted to elaborate on his previous answer, saying he had given the matter some additional consideration in the few minutes between Jackson's questions, and concluded that he did realize the deals were illegal. "I knew it wasn't the right thing to do, " he said.
The FBI did not become aware of Creaghan's involvement with Jefferson until Jefferson mentioned his name to agents when they raided Jefferson's home in New Orleans on Aug. 3, 2005. Creaghan subsequently became a cooperating witness for the FBI and taped conversations he had with Wilson, who is expected to testify today as one of the Justice Department's final four witnesses.
The defense entered into evidence FBI talking points that Creaghan was supposed to use in his taped conversation with Wilson. He was instructed to tell her that he had turned over some documents to the FBI but had others and wanted to know what she thought he should do with them. The idea was to "capture efforts by Noreen to obstruct, " according to the FBI e-mail to Creaghan.
Creaghan said Wilson didn't suggest he hide, or withhold any of the documents. The prosecution hasn't played any of the conversations taped by Creaghan. Wilson later joined Creaghan as a cooperating government witness, giving them immunity if they provide testimony in the government's corruption case against Jefferson.
Creaghan was followed on the stand by Rex Mars, former manager of Stolt Offshore Inc., a Texas firm specializing in oil pipelines. Mars testified that in early 2002, Creaghan asked Stolt to pay Mose Jefferson $10,000 a month in exchange for the congressman's help to the company in West Africa.
Mars' reply: "I asked him if he was out of his expletive mind."
Mars said he thought it would be improper to hire someone without knowledge about building pipelines, the company's bread and butter, and that if he had paid Mose Jefferson that much, the congressman's brother would have been earning as much or more than he was.
"I didn't like that much either, " Mars said.
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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.