FBI Had Good Reason to Search Office of Rep. Jefferson

After the FBI executed a search warrant for documents in the office of Rep. William Jefferson (D.-La.) on May 20, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) stood in unison to condemn the move as unconstitutional. Bowing to Hastert and Pelosi, President Bush ordered Solicitor General Paul Clement to take custody of the documents from the FBI and not to allow federal investigators to look at them for 45 days.

The President did this even though Article 1, Section 6, Clause 1 of the Constitution expressly states that members of Congress have no immunity from arrest for felonies, even while Congress is in session.

The FBI had good reason to search Jefferson’s office in pursuit of a felony investigation. Since at least September, Jefferson’s office had been refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena seeking documents.

According to the 83-page affidavit the FBI filed when it sought the warrant to search Jefferson’s office, one of Jefferson’s aides told investigators there were documents in the office relevant to the ongoing investigation against him in which two people have already pleaded guilty to bribing the congressman.

“A member of Congressman Jefferson’s staff has indicated to law enforcement agents that records relevant to the investigation remain in Congressman Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office, which the government has been unable to obtain to date,” said the affidavit.

Among the items related to its investigation that the FBI expected to find in Jefferson’s office were Power Point presentations, travel documents and official correspondence to Ghana Telecom officials asking their support for a company Jefferson was invested in.

The investigation began in March 2005 when a wealthy businesswoman referred to as “Cooperating Witness 1” in court papers, but later identified as Lori Mody in news reports, approached the FBI because she believed she had been a victim of a fraud and bribery scheme conducted by Jefferson, his former aide Brett Pfeffer and Vernon Jackson, president and CEO of iGate, a Kentucky-based telecommunications company.

Jackson admitted last month that he paid Jefferson $367,500 between 2000 and 2005 to take official acts to promote iGate. In a deal designed to conceal the illegal nature of their dealings, Jackson said he agreed to give Jefferson 35% of any profits gained by iGate for any business on the continent of Africa as well as monthly payments of $7,500. The money was paid to a company maintained in the names of Jefferson’s wife and children.

Jefferson is a member of the Congressional Caucus on Nigeria and the Congressional Africa Trade and Investment Caucus.

Mody became involved when she hired Pfeffer, who had maintained a social and professional relationship with the congressman, in 2004 to help her seek investment opportunities. He acted as a liaison between Jefferson and Mody and admitted in his plea agreement, signed in January 2006, that he was solicited by Jefferson for bribes in return for Jefferson’s agreement to perform official acts to benefit Mody’s investments in Nigeria.

On June 25, 2004, according to the FBI affidavit, Mody met with Jefferson, Jackson and Pfeffer in Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office. Jefferson presented a Power Point presentation titled “Nigeria Financial Connection,” and Mody was asked to invest $3.5 million to allow iGate to acquire rights to distribute iGate’s patented media services in Nigeria. Mody agreed.

But according to the affidavit, Mody became suspicious of the deal when she was told she must create a Nigerian company, partner it with a Nigerian telecommunications firm, retain one of Jefferson’s daughters to do legal work for the deal, and that Jefferson wanted between 5% and 7% ownership of the company. She also believed Pfeffer had forged her name on documents and taken large sums of money without her authorization.

In February 2005, Mody broke her ties with the three. But in March of that year she began meeting with them again on behalf of the FBI.

In a secretly recorded dinner conversation on May 12, 2005, according to the affidavit, Jefferson told Mody the deal may require that bribes be paid to various officials in Nigeria and asked her for a larger share of the profits. Subsequently, Mody gave Jefferson a certificate for a 30% equity stake in the Nigerian company Mody had created for the deal. The exchange was captured on videotape

After securing his stake in Mody’s company, Jefferson performed a number of official acts to promote the company without disclosing his personal investment. The FBI’s affidavit states that Jefferson:

  • Wrote an official letter to the Vice President of Nigeria dated June 21, 2005, concerning iGate that said: “From the point of view of U.S. business, it is very important to be able to rely on the acceptance of an offer as a deal if U.S. Investment [sic] is to be encouraged in Nigeria.” Jefferson faxed a copy of the letter to Mody on June 29, 2005. She turned the letter over to the FBI.
  • Arranged a meeting on July 15, 2005, with Pfeffer, Mody and Jackson and a member of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank for the purpose of securing loans to expand their business ventures on Nigeria and Ghana.
  • Accepted $100,000 in marked bills from Mody on Aug. 1, 2005, for the purpose of bribing an unnamed person for assistance with Nigerian ventures. Two days later, a search warrant was approved for Jefferson’s Washington, D.C., home and $90,000 of the cash was found wrapped in aluminum foil in containers in the congressman’s freezer. One of Jefferson’s female aides told FBI Agent Timothy Thibault that Jefferson called her into his interior office on Aug. 23, 2005, and gave her $4,800 as a loan. On Sept. 13, 2005, one of Jefferson’s attorney’s delivered $4,900 in marked bills to the government. The FBI believes these monies account for the missing $10,000.
  • Tried to replicate iGate’s Nigerian deal in Ghana, again with a personal profit motive. He wrote an official letter to the Vice President of Ghana, traveled to Ghana to meet with the Vice President and the minister of Communications using his congressional staff to plan the trip and obtain travel documents, and communicated with the U.S ambassador in Ghana for the purpose of obtaining approval to secure a deal for iGate. Mody told the FBI that Jefferson told her one of his aides kept a file labeled “Ghana” in his congressional office. She believed it contained copies of travel documents and correspondence to the government and other officials asking them to support iGate’s business. This file was one of the targets of the FBI’s warrant.

Throughout the investigation Jefferson has insisted he is innocent, refused to relinquish his seat on the Ways and Means Committee and said he plans to continue serving as a member of Congress.