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Prosecutors Lay Out Case Against Jefferson

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Before searching Rep. William J. Jefferson's New Orleans home in August 2005, FBI agents confronted him with a video that showed him accepting $100,000 from a government informant, according to a prosecution document filed yesterday in federal court in Alexandria.

Afterward, the Louisiana Democrat sank back into a couch in his living room and "with total dejection remarked 'what a waste,' " according to the government account, which did not elaborate on his comment.

Jefferson then "questioned how his reputation could survive" and expressed concern whether the search warrant affidavit could be permanently sealed to keep the information from being made public, according to the document.

Meanwhile, on the same day, FBI agents found $90,000 of the $100,000 in marked bills in Jefferson's freezer at his Capitol Hill home. The government alleged that Jefferson took the money from a Virginia businesswoman who was working as an informant, to bribe a Nigerian official in a business deal.

The pretrial document provides a glimpse into the public corruption investigation's early months. It was among 14 answers filed yesterday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alexandria in response to motions filed this month by Jefferson's lawyers.

Jefferson, 60, the former co-chairman of the congressional caucus on Nigeria and African trade faces a 16-count indictment that includes allegations that he used his 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 a former Nigerian vice president and promoted U.S. financing for a sugar factory in Nigeria whose owners paid fees to a Jefferson family company in Louisiana.

Two business associates, Vernon L. Jackson, owner of a Louisville-based high-tech company, and Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, are in prison after pleading guilty to bribing the congressman.

Judy Smith, a spokeswoman for Jefferson, said last night that his defense team was reviewing the government response.

Jefferson's lawyer filed motions on Sept. 7 asking for a change of venue to the District, alleging that authorities indicted the congressman in Virginia because there would be fewer black jurors.

The government opposed those motions, describing Jefferson's claims as "outrageous" and "preposterous" and arguing that many of the alleged crimes occurred in Virginia.

Jefferson's lawyers had also asked a judge to dismiss 14 of the charges, insisting that Jefferson did nothing illegal and asserting that any statement or any evidence seized during the raid on his New Orleans home should be suppressed. They said the FBI overstepped its bounds, bullied Jefferson, made him feel he was being detained and therefore should have read him his Miranda rights.

The government denied those claims and said agents were civil toward the congressman during the search of his New Orleans home. And though they watched his every move during the search, they did not keep him from leaving the house or ending the interview, and therefore did not need to read him his rights, the filing said.

In fact, the government said, Jefferson was very cooperative during the interview until FBI agents asked him what he did with the $100,000.

"What?" he replied, to which an agent said it was the FBI's money.

"I think I should stop talking to you boys," he said.

Agents then played the video on a small FBI DVD player.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has yet to rule on the motions.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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