Congressman Caught on Tape, Documents Say

Matthew Barakat, AP, May 22, 2006

Alexandria, Va.—Allegedly scamming a Virginia businesswoman could prove to be a major mistake for a Democratic congressman from New Orleans.

The FBI revealed Sunday that Rep. William Jefferson, under investigation for bribery, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded. Agents later found the cash hidden in his freezer, according to a court document released Sunday.

At one meeting captured on audiotape, Jefferson 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 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,’“ he told the businesswoman, who was wearing an FBI recording device.

Jefferson has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

As for the $100,000, the government says Jefferson got the money in a leather briefcase last 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 on Aug. 3 when the FBI searched Jefferson’s home in Washington. The money was stuffed in his freezer, wrapped in $10,000 packs and concealed in food containers and aluminum foil.

Two of 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.

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