- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Democratic congressman under investigation for bribery was caught on videotape accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded, a court document released yesterday showed.

Agents said they later found the cash hidden in the congressman’s freezer.

At one audiotaped meeting, Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana chuckles about writing in code to keep secret what the government contends was his corrupt role in getting his children a cut of a communications company’s deal for work in Africa.

As Mr. Jefferson and the informant passed notes about what percentage the lawmaker’s family might receive, the congressman “began laughing and said, ‘All these damn notes we’re writing to each other as if we’re talking, as if the FBI is watching,’” the affidavit said.

Mr. Jefferson, who represents New Orleans, has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

As for the $100,000, the government says Mr. Jefferson received the money in a leather briefcase July 30 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington. The plan was for the lawmaker to use the cash to bribe a high-ranking Nigerian official — the name is blacked out in the court document — to ensure the success of a business deal in that country, the affidavit said.

All but $10,000 was recovered Aug. 3 when the FBI searched Mr. Jefferson’s home in Washington, the affidavit said.

Two of Mr. Jefferson’s associates have pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in federal court in Alexandria. One, businessman Vernon Jackson of Louisville, Ky., admitted paying more than $400,000 in bribes to the lawmaker in exchange for his help securing business deals for Jackson’s telecommunications company in Nigeria and other African countries.

The new details about the case emerged after federal agents searched Mr. Jefferson’s congressional office on Capitol Hill late Saturday night. The nearly 100-page affidavit for a search warrant was made public yesterday with large portions blacked out.

The document includes excerpts of conversations between Mr. Jefferson and an unidentified business executive from Northern Virginia. She agreed to wear a wire after she approached the FBI with complaints that Mr. Jefferson and an associate had ripped her off in a business deal.

Mr. Jefferson’s attorney, Robert Trout, contended that the prosecutors’ disclosure was “part of a public relations agenda and an attempt to embarrass Congressman Jefferson. The affidavit itself is just one side of the story which has not been tested in court,” Mr. Trout said.

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