guilty on 4 counts

And just a little more than 2 weeks after, Mose Jefferson, William Jefferson’s brother, is convicted in federal court.

GUILTY ON 4 COUNTS In a split verdict, Mose Jefferson is convicted of bribery and obstruction of justice
Saturday, August 22, 2009
By Laura Maggi
Staff writer

Just two weeks after his younger brother, former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, was found guilty of misusing his congressional office, political operative Mose Jefferson was convicted Friday afternoon on federal charges that he bribed an Orleans Parish School Board member and then tried to get her to cover it up.

The jury found Jefferson, 66, guilty of four of seven charges: two counts of bribing Ellenese Brooks-Simms and two counts of obstruction of justice. He was acquitted on one count of conspiring to commit bribery, one count of bribery, plus one count of conspiring to commit money laundering.

Two attorneys familiar with sentencing calculations said federal guidelines would call for Jefferson to receive a sentence of between five and nine years in prison. Judges are not bound by the guidelines, though most use them in figuring sentences.

Jefferson is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 9 by U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon. Until then, he remains free on a personal surety bond.

The obstruction charges centered on two tapes recorded by Brooks-Simms, with the assistance of the FBI, which captured Jefferson repeatedly suggesting cover stories that would explain the payments he made to her.

The two counts of bribery that resulted in conviction involved $100,000 in payments made to Brooks-Simms while she was a member of the School Board. The jury acquitted Jefferson of the third bribery count, which involved a $40,000 payment made after Brooks-Simms was off the board.

“This is a resounding victory for the people of New Orleans,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann in a news conference outside the federal courthouse with the prosecutors who tried the case: Sal Perricone, Richard Perkins and Michael Simpson. The split verdict indicated the jury “was very contemplative about how they looked at the evidence,” she said.

Defense attorney Mike Fawer said the acquittals of his client on three counts showed the jury reached a “compromise” while considering the case. “I think we have a very good shot of the few counts that he was convicted of getting reversed on appeal,” Fawer said, referring to material he said shouldn’t have been allowed as evidence.

Speaking after his attorney, Jefferson he thought it was “impossible” for him to get a fair trial in New Orleans, an apparent reference to publicity surrounding his brother’s trial and another case, currently scheduled for trial in January, that accuses him and other members of his family of racketeering.

“Everything that has happened to our family for the past year and few years, I think it was pretty hard for us to get a fair shot in any court,” said the publicity-averse Jefferson, who reacted stoically to the verdict as it was read by the judge’s clerk. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t bribed a person in my life, and I never will.”

Donald “Chick” Foret, a former federal prosecutor, said that the jury likely decided to acquit on the third bribery charge because Brooks-Simms was no longer on the School Board when she took the money. Given that, he said, it made sense that jurors also rejected a money-laundering count tied to that payment.

The jury’s decision to acquit Jefferson of the conspiracy to commit bribery count was harder to understand, as jurors found him guilty of giving Brooks-Simms bribes and she pleaded guilty to taking them, Foret said.

Echoing Fawer, he said the verdict on that count seemed to be a compromise, the product of “give and take” among jurors still deliberating late on a Friday afternoon

Shortly after the verdict was announced, a hearing began for the jury to determine whether Jefferson should forfeit assets he obtained improperly. But it ended abruptly, and Lemmon dismissed the 12 jurors.

Fawer said he and prosecutors ended up working out a compromise in which Jefferson will forfeit $100,000. The eight-day trial revolved around one key question: whether the $140,000 that Jefferson funneled to Brooks-Simms in three separate installments was a gift or a bribe.

Brooks-Simms, the government’s star witness, characterized the payments as bribes, saying she took them in exchange for her support for a math tutorial program that Jefferson was peddling.

But Jefferson, who took the witness stand in his own defense, testified that Brooks-Simms pressured him for the money, and that it was unrelated to her vote. He said he decided to give it to her as a gift after hearing from her ailing husband about her financial woes.

Jefferson also testified he had an affair with Brooks-Simms in the 1980s, bolstering his claim they were longtime friends. Prosecutors called the assertion a fabrication, but they did not put Brooks-Simms back on the stand to dispute it.

Brooks-Simms, whose sentencing has been delayed repeatedly since she pleaded guilty in June 2007, is now set to be sentenced Nov. 19. Though prosecutors would not specify what relief they would seek for her cooperation, they will doubtless ask a judge to treat her leniently.

The verdict came two weeks after a federal jury in Virginia convicted William Jefferson on 11 of 16 counts of public corruption, in a case that accused of him of using his elected office to solicit bribes from companies that wanted his help with business deals in West Africa.

At the outset of Mose Jefferson’s trial, Fawer argued that the drumbeat of pretrial publicity surrounding both cases would taint the jury pool. While Fawer said after the verdict he believed that jurors were largely fair, he said prosecutors’ references to William Jefferson during the trial were an attempt prejudice the jury.

Mann said that Lemmon’s painstaking method of interviewing the potential jurors to determine whether they were biased in any way guaranteed Jefferson had a fair trial.

Brooks-Simms pleaded guilty in the case and began cooperating with the FBI more than two years ago, agreeing to wear a wire during two May 2007 conversations with Mose Jefferson.

To pay Brooks-Simms, Jefferson had written three checks from bank accounts associated with companies he controlled.

Each time, he made the payments shortly after he was paid by JRL Enterprises, the company that made the I CAN Learn algebra tutorial program. After the passage of almost $14 million worth of contracts in 2003 and 2004, JRL paid Jefferson commissions totaling more than $900,000.

In two cases, Jefferson gave Brooks-Simms a $50,000 check with no one listed on the payee line. After receiving the check, Brooks-Simms wrote the name of her daughter, Stacy Simms, as the recipient, later instructing her to open a bank account in her name and deposit the check.

Brooks-Simms also deposited the next check in the account, which she controlled. Stacy Simms, who was given a portion of the money to pay off bills, last year pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, essentially failing to notify federal officials about her knowledge of a crime. She testified her mother told her the checks were related to School Board business she had with Jefferson.

Brooks-Simms received the third payment in January 2005, after she had been bounced off the board in a resounding defeat in the fall of 2004. Though she served for two years as board president and was a formidable politician, Brooks-Simms came to alienate many of her fellow board members during her last year.

One of her last actions on the board was to vote for the second of two almost $7 million contracts for I CAN Learn. That, she said, prompted Jefferson to give her the final $40,000 check.

Jefferson, however, countered that he gave Brooks-Simms money again because she was so in debt from her failed re-election bid — a plight he sympathized with after the many campaigns he ran for his younger brother.

Brooks-Simms testified that Mose Jefferson told her not to use her daughter’s name for the last payment, saying it was too close a connection and could be traced.

But Jefferson testified it was Brooks-Simms who didn’t want to use Stacy Simms as the conduit for the money, saying he believed they’d had a falling-out.

Brooks-Simms ended up giving Jefferson the name of a friend from church, Rosa Dickerson, as the alleged recipient. The third check was for just $40,000, as Jefferson’s commission had been cut.

To cash the check, which she never told Dickerson about, Brooks-Simms sought the assistance of an old friend: businessman Burnell Moliere, a longtime Jefferson family ally.

Moliere testified that before he was contacted by Brooks-Simms, he received a call from Jefferson, who said the “School Board lady” was coming by to see him.

Fawer noted that Moliere neglected to mention that key fact when testifying last year before a federal grand jury. But prosecutors were able to produce Jefferson’s phone records from that day, which showed he placed a call to Moliere just minutes before calling Brooks-Simms.

Brooks-Simms testified she asked Moliere to cash the check for her, first forging her friend’s signature on the back. Moliere, who has pleaded guilty to illegally structuring a financial transaction, deposited the money and, through a series of straw payees and cash withdrawals, took the money out in less than $10,000 increments to avoid detection.

Before depositing the check, Moliere testified that he had called Jefferson to find out whether it would bounce. Jefferson said that is the only conversation with Moliere from that day he recalls, adding that they talked frequently, about a myriad of issues. Moliere said he discussed his moves with Jefferson.

The conspiracy to commit money laundering charge stemmed from Moliere’s efforts to cash the $40,000 check, which prosecutors asserted Jefferson set into action with his initial phone call.

The obstruction of justice charges centered on two conversations Brooks-Simms taped with Jefferson, one at the Home Depot in Gretna and the other at West Jefferson Medical Center. They took place in May 2007, shortly before she pleaded guilty.

At that point, Jefferson knew that federal investigators were looking into the payments he made to Brooks-Simms, although he did not know she was cooperating with federal authorities.

On the tapes, transcripts of which were repeatedly shown to the jurors, he proposed various cover stories — at one point asking Brooks-Simms to tell federal investigators that Stacy Simms and Dickerson, the ostensible payees, had worked for him. Brooks-Simms needed to talk to her daughter and Dickerson to ensure they were on board, he said.

The tapes were perhaps the most damning evidence in the case. During closing arguments, Fawer acknowledged these conversations were “stupid,” but said Jefferson was just trying to help a friend he believed was in legal trouble. Jefferson also testified he thought it was Brooks-Simms, not necessarily himself, who was the target of the federal probe.


~ by maringouin on Saturday, August 22, 2009.

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