Jefferson Wants Bribery Case Moved to D.C.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), indicted on federal bribery charges, said yesterday in court papers that he did nothing illegal and accused prosecutors of bringing the case against him in Virginia because there would be fewer black jurors.
The motions filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria provided the first look at Jefferson's defense strategy as he fights a 16-count indictment and asks a judge to dismiss 14 of the charges or move the case to the District.
A federal grand jury indicted Jefferson, the former co-chairman of the congressional caucus on Nigeria and African trade, in June. The congressman faces charges that he used his official position to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for himself and his family, falsely reported trips to Africa as official business, sought to bribe the former Nigerian vice president, and promoted U.S. financing for a sugar factory in Nigeria whose owner paid fees to a Jefferson family company in Louisiana.
In more than 100 pages of motions, Jefferson's attorney said the congressman did not bribe the Nigerian vice president, did nothing illegal by getting involved in private business ventures, and declared that the government concocted a flimsy conspiracy charge because the statute of limitations was set to expire on several charges.
The lawyer, Robert P. Trout, noted that the government charged that Jefferson wrote letters, made introductions, and went to meetings and foreign trips to assist businesses to land contracts in Africa.
"In essence, the indictment alleges that Mr. Jefferson was employed to help these businesses and received compensation in return. . . .," the motion said. "In this regard, it is important to note that it is not illegal -- or even a violation of House Rules -- for a member to have outside employment."
Those private business transactions were unrelated to Jefferson's duties as a member of Congress, the motion said. "Since the bribery case the government has outlined in the indictment does not fall within the four corners of the bribery laws, the bribery related counts indictment should be dismissed."
The papers also say that the FBI used a cooperating witness to steer the case to Virginia. Blacks account for a smaller proportion of the potential jurors there than in the District, where they make up the majority of the population.
"That venue was selected in the Eastern District of Virginia in order to obtain a jury pool with fewer African Americans," the motion said, adding: "The court has an obligation to ensure that the forum selection in this case was not tainted by racially discriminatory motive."
The motion prompted prosecutors to issue a statement yesterday saying that race had nothing to do with their charging decisions.
"The indictment unsealed in June alleges facts supporting jurisdiction and venue in the Eastern District of Virginia. This venue is appropriate as we have indicated in public court filings and as represented by the guilty pleas of two alleged co-conspirators in the Eastern District of Virginia," said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.
The federal indictment is the first in which a U.S. official is charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars bribery of foreign officials.
Jefferson, 60, a Harvard Law School graduate, was reelected last year while under investigation. He was the first black congressman elected in Louisiana since Reconstruction.
The indictment charges that Jefferson used his official position to help iGate, a Kentucky-based high-tech business, sell its technology to provide Internet and cable television in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Jefferson, according to the indictment, took kickbacks from the company's owner for his family and had stock in the company.
During a meeting with an informant wearing a recording device, Jefferson said he would need $500,000 to give to Nigeria's then-vice president, Atiku Abubakar, to make sure the high-tech venture went through. A short time later, the informant handed Jefferson $100,000 in FBI money that had been photocopied. FBI agents found $90,000 found in a freezer at his Capitol Hill home a few days later.
Jefferson's attorney argued in the motions that because the money never reached the vice president, no bribe of a foreign official took place.
He also wrote that the bribery statute requires that a politician take something of value in exchange for an official act such as voting or authorizing appropriations:
"There is no allegation in this indictment that Mr. Jefferson solicited anything of value in return for being influenced in any decision in a matter that was or could be pending before him in his capacity as a Member of the United States House of Representatives."