The attorney for Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), whose client has been the target of an FBI corruption sting for nearly a year, said yesterday that Jefferson's official business dealings in Africa may be a factor in the investigation.
"I wouldn't be surprised," said attorney Michael Fawer of New Orleans. "I know he had an interest in developing African nations and promoting American companies to help," he said, adding that a sting of this nature would have to have something to do with business.
Jefferson, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, is co-chair of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus and the Congressional Caucuses on Brazil and Nigeria and has traveled overseas.
Search warrants executed last week at his homes in New Orleans and Northeast Washington mentioned Nigeria, said sources familiar with the case who declined to be identified because of its sensitive nature.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune, quoting an unnamed source yesterday, said the search warrants mentioned at least two African nations; a high-tech company in Kentucky; and Jefferson's wife's company, the ANJ Group LLC. The paper said the warrants also asked for e-mails between Jefferson and "named foreign nationals."
Jefferson has not been charged with wrongdoing. A federal grand jury in Alexandria is investigating the matter.
Investigators are looking into whether Jefferson, 58, illegally pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars of an investor's money from business transactions during the sting, law enforcement sources have said.
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 allegedly agreed to invest in the firm and use his congressional influence to bring in business, the sources said.
Just how his official dealings in Africa play into the case remained unclear yesterday.
In the United States, investigators are interested in his business dealings and his relationship with iGate Inc., a small technology company in Louisville, sources said.
Records show that the company, which does business in Africa, was one of several sponsors who paid for Jefferson's February 2004 trip to Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Attempts to reach company President Vernon L. Jackson yesterday were unsuccessful.
Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.