- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Secretly recorded conversations played Thursday at the corruption trial of former Rep. William J. Jefferson revealed what prosecutors say is the Louisiana Democrat soliciting bribes.

The recordings, made during a series of meetings and phone conversations with a businesswoman-turned-FBI informant in 2005, also captured Mr. Jefferson unknowingly making a prescient, if not ironic, crack.

“It’s like the FBI is watching us,” Mr. Jefferson said to Lori Mody as the two wrote a detailed plan related to a Nigerian telecommunications contract. Unbeknownst to Mr. Jefferson, Ms. Mody was wearing a wire for the FBI.

Mr. Jefferson, who served nine terms in Congress before he lost his re-election bid last year, faces bribery, money laundering and other charges stemming from a 16-count indictment. Prosecutors in federal court in Alexandria say Mr. Jefferson took bribes in exchange for promoting telecommunications services and equipment to several West African nations.

Ms. Mody was financing a venture to provide telecommunications services in Nigeria. During the recordings played Thursday, Mr. Jefferson discussed a company run by his five daughters and a son-in-law receiving a share of the proceeds from the deal in Nigeria.

Authorities contend that the company, Global Energy and Environmental LLC, was merely a shell company for Mr. Jefferson to receive bribes.

But Mr. Jefferson’s lawyers say the former congressman was simply helping companies, run by his family, to provide legitimate consulting services. It’s an arrangement, his lawyers acknowledge, is ethically questionable, but they maintain it is not illegal.

Ms. Mody is a key figure in the case. She became suspicious of Mr. Jefferson in 2005, went to the FBI and began cooperating in the bureau’s investigation against him. Prosecutors say Ms. Mody gave Mr. Jefferson a suitcase stuffed with $100,000 for passing along to Nigerian officials to help her business. The FBI said $90,000 of that money was later found in Mr. Jefferson’s freezer.

And although the jury heard her voice Thursday, it will not hear from her in person. Prosecutors have said they will not call her to testify but have not said why.

The defense says that Ms. Mody is emotionally unstable and that the purported bribe was part of an FBI setup to bust a member of Congress.

Without Ms. Mody’s testimony, prosecutors have had to use the testimony of FBI agent Timothy Thibault to introduce the recordings into evidence.

Defense attorney Robert Trout challenged the prosecution’s move to introduce into evidence selected wiretap recordings of conversations between Ms. Mody and Mr. Jefferson. The defense asked in a motion filed last week that those recordings be barred from evidence unless the defense is able to introduce other recorded conversations that the government didn’t plan to reveal to the jury.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that the prosecution can put into evidence the segments it chose, but the jury must also hear segments picked by the defense.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Bellows said Thursday that it would likely take until Tuesday to put all the recordings into evidence and play them for the jury.

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