FBI Sting Targeted Louisiana Lawmaker

Federal agents haul boxes of documents from the New Orleans home of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.).
Federal agents haul boxes of documents from the New Orleans home of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.). (By Ted Jackson -- New Orleans Times-picayune Via Associated Press)
By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 13, 2005

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), a veteran member of the Ways and Means Committee whose homes in Washington and New Orleans were raided by the FBI last week, had been the target of an undercover FBI sting involving public corruption for nearly a year, according to law enforcement sources.

Investigators are looking into whether Jefferson illegally pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars of an investor's money from business transactions during the sting, according to the sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

According to the sources, a high-tech company that was starting up in Northern Virginia agreed to cooperate with the FBI in the sting, and conversations with Jefferson were secretly recorded. Jefferson, an eight-term congressman who once was dogged by reports of defaults on outstanding loans and mortgages, allegedly agreed to invest in the start-up company and use his congressional influence to bring in business, the sources said.

Jefferson, 58, a Harvard Law School graduate and former state senator, has not been charged with wrongdoing. A federal grand jury in Alexandria is investigating the matter. The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria and the FBI have declined to comment. A Justice Department spokesman has said that the search warrants were executed "in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation" but provided no further details.

In the raids on his homes, FBI agents seized a number of items, including a large amount of cash that was kept in a freezer, the sources said. His accountant's home and office were also searched.

It is extremely rare that the FBI targets a congressman in a sting, former and current law enforcement authorities said. They said the last such case of note they remembered was the 1978 Abscam case, an FBI undercover sting that resulted in the conviction of six representatives and a senator. FBI agents, who posed as Arab sheiks and associates, offered the politicians money in exchange for favors, raising complaints of entrapment.

Jefferson's attorney, Michael Fawer of New Orleans, said yesterday that he was "satisfied in what we're involved in is a sting operation on the part of the FBI or some other law enforcement organization that has been pulling strings behind the scenes just as they had in Abscam."

"If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and smells like a duck, then it's a sting," he said, declining to say what information he based his comments on.

Fawer said he was confident Jefferson "did not pocket any money." He declined to comment on what was seized in the raids.

"The congressman has lots of contacts. He's involved in advancing a lot of businesses on behalf of his constituents and states and in a number of countries throughout the world," he said.

Fawer, a former Justice Department lawyer, added that he found it curious that the case was being handled in Northern Virginia, a "primarily white district," instead of Washington or Louisiana, where Jefferson, who is black, conducts most of his business.

Immediately after the raids on his homes in Northeast Washington and New Orleans on Aug. 3, Jefferson issued a statement saying, "I do not know the extent or the precise nature of this investigation but I am cooperating fully with authorities."

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