Defense notes ex-aide to William Jefferson made assurances that dealings were legal
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday July 01, 2009, 9:41 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- Defense attorneys for former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson played a recording Wednesday from a May 2005 lunch meeting in which Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, assured investor Lori Mody that their dealings with the Democratic congressman were perfectly legal.
At the time of the conversation, Pfeffer worked for Mody, who ran a Virginia educational foundation. It was Pfeffer who brought Jefferson and Mody together and led Mody to sink $3.5 million into a deal to buy the Nigerian distribution rights for a telecommunications technology that Jefferson was promoting.
Asked by Jefferson attorney Amy Jackson how he squared the taped comments with his testimony Tuesday that he knew from the beginning that his and Mody's dealings with Jefferson were illegal, Pfeffer said he didn't want to say anything that would scare Mody away from a project he assumed would make him rich.
He also said the conversation with Mody was in a crowded Washington restaurant and he didn't want to talk about potential illegal acts that could be overheard by others.
Also Wednesday, FBI agent Timothy Thibault testified that the federal probe of Jefferson began after a former FBI agent, then working as a partner in a security company hired by Mody to protect her from a possible stalker, suggested Thibault meet with her. He said he met with Mody shortly thereafter, in early March 2005, and she agreed to wear a wire, starting with a St. Patrick's Day conversation with Pfeffer.
When Mody and Pfeffer had lunch at The Capital Grille in May 2005, Mody questioned whether their relationship with Jefferson in pursuing the Nigerian deal was legal and appropriate.
Referring to Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist who was at the center of a series of scandals, Pfeffer made a distinction. "They were trying to change legislation, we're not, " he said.
Pfeffer also told Mody in the lunch conversation that he didn't intend to "go to prison" for anyone.
Jackson asked Pfeffer whether he knew whether Jefferson had paid for his 5 percent to 7 percent share of Mody's Nigerian company that is a major part of the government's bribery charges against the former congressman. Pfeffer said he didn't know how Mody responded to Jefferson's request for a part her company.
In his testimony Tuesday, Pfeffer had said he knew as soon as Jefferson demanded a piece of the action on the Nigerian deal that it was illegal. Pfeffer also said Jefferson was indispensable to the deal because of his influence with Nigerian officials and with officials at the Export-Import Bank, who would have to finance 85 percent of the Nigerian venture for it to happen.
Targeting FBI interview
But on Wednesday, Jackson questioned why Pfeffer had never mentioned the Export-Import Bank and Jefferson's anticipated role in gaining its loan approval when he was questioned by the FBI on Aug. 3, 2005, the day agents raided Jefferson's homes in Washington and New Orleans.
Pfeffer said he didn't remember what he had said in all of the many interviews he underwent in the federal investigation of the case.
Jackson questioned how much Pfeffer might have been coached in his testimony in his 10 to 15 meetings with prosecutors in advance of his testifying.
In redirect questioning by prosecutor Charles Duross, Pfeffer said most of the time with Duross was spent listening to taped conversations and that the only thing Duross told him was to "tell the truth."
Pfeffer said he is in a position to know right from wrong. As a former Jefferson aide, Pfeffer said he did "deals all the time" for Avondale Shipyards, Textron Marine and Louisiana universities, but that he didn't seek anything in return.
Jurors were left out of the courtroom for much of Wednesday, as prosecutors and defense attorneys argued whether certain taped conversations, mainly involving Mody, should be played. The Justice Department has said Mody won't be a witness, and Judge T.S. Ellis III is considering how her absence should affect the playing of tapes.
Ellis has already ruled that Thibault, the FBI agent who led the corruption probe of Jefferson, is limited in what he could testify about the conversations, given he wasn't a direct participant.
Tax returns in evidence
Also in a conference outside of the jury's hearing, Ellis agreed to allow the government to put into evidence the tax returns for Global Energy and Environmental LLC, a company controlled by Jefferson's five daughters and a son-in-law, Phillip Jones. Jones is married to Jamila Jefferson.
The 2004 tax return, read into the record by Ellis, shows that the congressman was "gifted" $135,000 from the company. Lead prosecutor Mark Lytle said the tax return and other evidence will show that it was the congressman who was controlling the operations of the company, not his children.
Global Energy and Environmental LLC was involved with another company with a similar name in developing garbage-to-energy incinerators internationally, including in Africa. Noreen Wilson, an executive with the other company, is expected to testify later.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7861.