- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Whether former Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, is found guilty of federal corruption charges will depend largely on whether a jury thinks an imprisoned businessman bribed the nine-term congressman or was simply paying legitimate consulting fees.

Vernon Jackson, former CEO of iGate, finished testifying Tuesday after five days on the stand during Mr. Jefferson’s trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Jackson is serving a seven-year prison sentence since he pleaded guilty in 2006 to bribery for giving Mr. Jefferson more than $400,000 in exchange for Mr. Jefferson promoting his company in Africa.

Lawyers for Mr. Jefferson, who faces bribery, money laundering and other charges stemming from a 16-count indictment, contend the money Mr. Jackson paid were legal consulting fees to ANJ, a company Mr. Jefferson started for his wife and daughters.

Defense attorney Robert Trout has acknowledged the arrangement was ethically questionable, but said it was not illegal.

“Did you know throughout the entire time that you were in a bribe scam?” Mr. Trout asked.

“I had concerns about that, but he assured me that he got no benefit from his wife’s business,” Jackson said during Tuesday’s testimony. “As time moved on, I realized I was paying more to the congressman than ANJ.”

Mr. Jackson said later in the defense’s cross-examination that he didn’t accept a plea agreement because he actually thought he was guilty of bribing Jackson. Instead, he told Mr. Trout that he accepted it because of advice from his lawyer and the large amount of evidence against him.

That explanation seemed to contradict an answer Jackson gave later Tuesday, when questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows when she asked essentially the same question.

“I pleaded guilty because I was in fact guilty,” Jackson said.

Jackson was one of the prosecution’s key witnesses in a trial that is now expected to last more than a month. His testimony may take on even more importance if Judge T.S. Ellis III grants a defense request to exclude wiretap recordings and other evidence related to another key figure in the case, Northern Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody.

Prosecutors say Ms. Mody wore a wire for the FBI in 2005 when she 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.

Prosecutors are not going to call Ms. Mody to testify, but have not said why. The defense says Ms. Mody is emotionally unstable and that the purported bribe was actually an FBI setup by zealous agents looking to bust a member of Congress.

The prosecution wants to introduce into evidence selected wiretap recordings of conversations between Ms. Mody and Mr. Jefferson. The defense asked in a motion filed Monday that those recordings be barred from evidence unless the defense is able to itself introduce other recorded conversations that the government didn’t plan on revealing to the jury.

The judge gave prosecutors until Friday to file a response to the defense motion.

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