Witness says Jefferson family firm did little for iGate
by Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune
Monday June 29, 2009, 9:19 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- A company created by the wife of former Rep. William Jefferson billed a Kentucky technology firm for thousands of dollars in consulting fees without spending a dime on office space, travel, gas, stamps or a single employee, the congressman's former accountant testified Monday.
Jack Swetland, a New Orleans CPA who served as the Democratic congressman's tax accountant and campaign treasurer, said he was aware that the ANJ Group, named for Jefferson's wife and daughters, was receiving, at least for a while, monthly payments of $7,500 from iGate, but did not list any business expenses on its tax filings.
When defense attorney Robert Trout noted that businesses are not required to report business expenses, Swetland smiled and said that he supposed that was true, if the purpose was to pay more in taxes.
Federal prosecutors allege that ANJ was a shell company created to hide the payments iGate was making for Jefferson's help in brokering deals in West Africa. Jefferson is facing a 16-count indictment that includes bribery and fraud charges.
Jefferson has pleaded innocent, and his defense team says his actions were as a private citizen and not subject to the bribery statute.
Swetland said he didn't know the depth of Jefferson's involvement with iGate until August 2005, when Swetland's Poydras Street office, along with Jefferson's homes in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., were raided by the FBI.
After the raid, Swetland said, he severed his long relationship with Jefferson. He explained his thinking: "I can't be associated with someone like this, that is under this suspicion, " he said. To stick with Jefferson at that point, he said, would "have a bad effect on the rest of my clients."
Swetland and Andrea Jefferson were the two people who could write checks off the ANJ account and the prosecution entered into evidence a series of checks written to the Jeffersons and their daughters. Swetland was asked to examine each, which bore what was purported to be his signature. He said it was not his handwriting, and that in a couple of cases, looked like William Jefferson's hand.
Swetland also was listed as the registered agent on the incorporation papers for ANJ and some other Jefferson family enterprises, but Swetland said that even though he was never informed that he was being so listed by the Jeffersons, he never questioned it or objected and let it stand. In one case, involving a business called Providence Lake, he did recognize the signature on the incorporation papers as genuinely his own.
Swetland said he met Jefferson when he started doing his taxes in 1982. In 1987, he became the comptroller for several Remco rent-to-own franchises the Jefferson family ran, but when he couldn't turn around the businesses, the family got rid of them in 1989. In the meantime, Swetland did taxes for Jefferson's family and siblings, and became the treasurer in his various political campaigns.
It was Swetland who went to the bank with Andrea Jefferson in 2001 to open ANJ with a $100 deposit.
But, when lead prosecutor Mark Lytle began questioning Swetland about what, if anything, he knew about the nature of ANJ's consulting business, Trout objected. Judge T.S. Ellis III excused the jury, and Lytle presented to the judge his view of Andrea Jefferson as an indispensable part of Jefferson's criminal conspiracy, a knowing and willing party to at least some of the crimes with which her husband is charged.
"ANJ was getting over $300,000, " Lytle said, "and she's not doing anything for it."
Without the jury present, Ellis allowed that, "If she was sending invoices (to iGate) for work she wasn't doing, that's corrupt."
Trout objected, saying there wasn't a "scintilla" of evidence that Andrea Jefferson was involved in any kind of conspiracy.
"Spouses all the time do things for their spouses and act on behalf of their spouses and then there is money coming in without (their) knowing any of the details, " Trout said.
But Lytle said Andrea Jefferson was "more than a helpful spouse, " and would more properly "be called a co-conspirator."
Lytle said Andrea Jefferson represented to iGate CEO Vernon Jackson that she had interceded with BellSouth on behalf of his company, and that she had traveled to Africa on its behalf, when she knew that in both cases it was her husband who was doing those things, not her.
He also said that she never asked for the approval she needed from Southern University, where she was an administrator, to do outside work, another indication that she wasn't doing any real work at ANJ.
In fact, Lytle said, when it came to ANJ, "the only thing Andrea Jefferson was interested in was getting money, money for spending."
Twice during the day, the judge huddled with lawyers out of earshot of the jury and the few people attending the trial. Both times, the former congressman left his seat at the defense table and sat next to his wife in the first row behind him. None of the Jeffersons' five daughters was in court Monday.
At one point during the testimony, Andrea Jefferson wrote a note and passed it to Trout. At the end of the day, when Ellis asked if the attorneys could finish their questioning of Swetland, Trout at first indicated he could, but then said his client had some ideas about the cross-examination and that they should finish with the witness today.
The prosecution's implication was that Swetland's office served as the address for essentially dummy corporations, but Trout noted that Swetland used the old Remco office in the same building as Jefferson's offices. He also noted that Jefferson had signed Swetland's name to campaign checks when Swetland wasn't available.
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Jonathan Tilove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7827.