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Target of F.B.I. Raid Had a Hard Path to Capitol Hill

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  • Ram Lau
    Perhaps the liberal media showing some pity may help? Ram http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/29/washington/29jefferson.html Target of F.B.I. Raid Had a Hard Path
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29 9:29 AM
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      Perhaps the "liberal media" showing some pity may help?

      Ram


      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/29/washington/29jefferson.html
      Target of F.B.I. Raid Had a Hard Path to Capitol Hill
      By CHRISTOPHER DREW and ROBERT PEAR

      NEW ORLEANS, May 27 — Representative William J. Jefferson has always
      liked to talk about growing up in an impoverished farm community,
      picking cotton for $3 a day and hitting the books hard enough to win
      his ticket out — a scholarship to Harvard Law School.

      But even as Mr. Jefferson built a reputation as one of Louisiana's
      brightest, most effective leaders, a less flattering view began to
      emerge, one signified by his nickname in political circles, "Dollar Bill."

      Early in his career, as a state legislator, he was criticized for
      enriching his law firm with contracts from state and local agencies.
      He also ran stores that rented appliances by the month to poor
      residents, owned dilapidated apartment buildings and was sued by
      federal regulators over a defaulted loan.

      Now, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation raid on his Capitol Hill
      office on May 20, Mr. Jefferson, a 59-year-old Democrat, is under
      investigation for possibly turning his efforts to promote trade with
      Africa into another sideline worth hundreds of thousands of dollars —
      and has become the central figure in a political drama consuming
      Washington.

      The unprecedented raid has set off a huge institutional showdown, with
      Republican leaders including J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the
      speaker of the House, challenging the White House and criticizing the
      F.B.I.'s actions. Democratic leaders have also stood by the speaker's
      side.

      President Bush has stepped into the fray, ordering the F.B.I. to seal
      any records it seized and calling for a 45-day cooling-off period to
      allow time to resolve the crisis.

      The raid on Mr. Jefferson's office took place barely a week ago. But
      in a sense, the questions circling him have long resonances in his
      career, which was shaped by a remarkable ascent from the deepest
      poverty and a quest for the comforts his family never had.

      In a 95-page affidavit released after the raid, the F.B.I. accused Mr.
      Jefferson, an eight-term lawmaker, of demanding more than $400,000 in
      bribes to help iGate Inc., a technology company based in Kentucky,
      obtain lucrative contracts in Africa. The bureau said it had also
      videotaped him accepting a suitcase with $100,000 in cash and later
      found $90,000 of it in his freezer.

      Though the details were blacked out, the affidavit also said the
      F.B.I. had "evidence linking Congressman Jefferson to at least seven
      other schemes" in which he "sought things of value in return for his
      performance of official acts."

      Mr. Jefferson has vigorously denied wrongdoing and has not been
      charged with a crime. "I certainly did not sell my office," Mr.
      Jefferson said in a recent statement. "The government seems inclined
      to view the facts in the worst possible light, and to characterize
      events that could be explained, or are exculpatory, in ways that tend
      to incriminate."

      Whether his actions were criminal or not, several people who have long
      known Mr. Jefferson said he had often seemed driven by a desire to
      escape his spartan roots.

      "There was always a feeling among those who knew him as Dollar Bill
      that having grown up as poor as he did, his hunger for wealth always
      burned," said Allan Katz, a New Orleans political consultant.

      Mr. Jefferson, a taciturn man who began his career as a favorite of
      good-government groups, has built a political empire in New Orleans,
      winning re-election by wide margins and helping his sister, one of his
      five daughters and many allies win public offices.

      Standing outside a new post office that Mr. Jefferson helped bring to
      his district, one voter, Joyce F. Smith, said that if the accusations
      were true, "I'd be very disappointed because he's been a very good
      congressman."

      But many people here have been joking about his "frozen assets" and
      "cold cash." And Ms. Smith added, it is "hard for me to believe" that
      he would have stashed legitimate earnings in frozen-food containers
      and aluminum foil.

      Mr. Jefferson was raised, along with eight brothers and sisters, on a
      small farm in northeast Louisiana, where, he said earlier this year,
      "our whole life revolved around that cotton field." His father left
      school after second grade, and his mother attended only through eighth
      grade.

      As a child, Mr. Jefferson was such a good shot, his father once said,
      that when it came time to bag dinner, "if I wanted one rabbit, I'd
      give him one shell; and if I needed two rabbits, I'd give him two."

      After he graduated from Southern University in Baton Rouge in 1969,
      Mr. Jefferson has said, he won his mother's blessing to go to Harvard
      Law School — she had never heard of it — only by explaining that it
      had been John F. Kennedy's college.

      Mr. Jefferson has credited his parents with pressing the value of hard
      work. Elizabeth Brannum Trass, one of his high school teachers, said
      in an interview that he had always had the seriousness of purpose that
      helped catapult him onto a much faster track.

      A clerkship with a United States district judge brought Mr. Jefferson
      to New Orleans in 1972. He got into politics as a campaign aide for
      Ernest N. Morial, who became the city's first black mayor in 1978 and
      gave Mr. Jefferson the Dollar Bill nickname.

      Friends of both men said the mayor thought Mr. Jefferson had tried too
      aggressively to collect legal fees for helping Mr. Morial win the
      election. But after Mr. Jefferson became a state senator in 1979, his
      political rivals began to use "Dollar Bill" to refer to his expanding
      financial ventures.

      His rental business — which leased television sets and other
      appliances to people who could not afford to buy them — appeared on
      the delinquent list in a city sales-tax scandal in the 1980's. And a
      day after he was elected to Congress in 1990, the Resolution Trust
      Corporation, which was trying to clean up the mess from the collapse
      of savings institutions, sued him for $160,000 over an
      apartment-building loan on which he had quit making payments. He later
      settled the suit, with friends saying his investments had been hurt by
      a faltering economy.

      Still, once Mr. Jefferson became a close ally of President Bill
      Clinton, and then won a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means
      Committee, he was able to provide "absolute A+" support for city
      projects, said Marc H. Morial, one of Ernest Morial's sons and the
      mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002.

      Mr. Jefferson also became known as a strong advocate of freer trade
      and made at least nine trips to Africa to promote it, including one
      with President Clinton. He championed a 2000 law that extended trade
      benefits to sub-Saharan Africa. "Africa is a reservoir of
      opportunities for American businesses," he said then.

      Over the years, Mr. Jefferson has received campaign contributions and
      free travel from individuals and companies seeking business in Africa,
      including iGate.

      Campaign finance records show he received a $1,000 contribution as
      early as 2001 from Vernon L. Jackson, the chief executive of iGate,
      which makes technology to transmit high-speed Internet service across
      the wires used in some African nations. Mr. Jackson pleaded guilty
      this month to bribing Mr. Jefferson with more than $400,000 in cash
      and millions of shares of iGate stock.

      Government documents show that Mr. Jackson told the F.B.I. that when
      he met Mr. Jefferson in late 2000, the congressman voluntarily helped
      promote iGate's products — a normal and legitimate action for a
      government official involved in trade issues. But according to the
      F.B.I. documents, in early 2001, the congressman's actions became
      improper when he said he would continue to use his influence on
      iGate's behalf only if Mr. Jackson made payments to a company, the ANJ
      Group, run by the Jefferson family. The iGate payments were disguised
      as consulting fees, the F.B.I. said.

      Mr. Jefferson says these were private business dealings that had
      nothing to do with his work on the House committee.

      But as part of a 2003 deal to distribute iGate's products, a Nigerian
      company, Netlink Digital Television, agreed to pay the congressman $5
      per subscriber, the F.B.I. affidavit said, "in return for Jefferson's
      official assistance if the deal was successful."

      House records show that in February 2004, Mr. Jefferson led a business
      delegation to Nigeria and Cameroon as a co-chairman of the
      Congressional Nigeria Caucus and the Africa Trade and Investment
      Caucus. The trip, which cost $16,313, according to the records, was
      paid for in part by iGate.

      In 2005, the F.B.I. said, Mr. Jefferson wrote to the vice presidents
      of Nigeria and Ghana, and traveled to Ghana, seeking approval for
      iGate projects. Within a week after returning, the F.B.I. said, Mr.
      Jefferson used his influence to help a Virginia woman, Lori Modi, who
      had invested $3.5 million in the Nigeria project. He introduced her to
      officials at the Export-Import Bank of the United States and urged
      them to provide financing for the project.

      But by then, Ms. Modi had asked the F.B.I. to investigate the deal.

      Investigators said that in negotiating the deals, Mr. Jefferson had
      often cited his desire to provide for his five daughters, three of
      whom also have degrees from Harvard Law School.

      From December 2004 through June 2005, the F.B.I. said in its
      affidavit, Mr. Jefferson increased his demands for equity in one
      Nigerian company, to 30 percent, to be split among his daughters. He
      also told an investor that one of his daughters had to be retained to
      do legal work, according to documents in the case.

      Then, on July 30, 2005, when Mr. Jefferson met Ms. Modi at a
      Ritz-Carlton hotel, the F.B.I. said it supplied her with a briefcase
      with $100,000 in marked bills. Mr. Jefferson had told her the money
      would be needed to bribe Nigerian officials, the affidavit said.

      As the F.B.I.'s video cameras zoomed in on him, the bureau said, Mr.
      Jefferson drove off with the briefcase on the seat of his Lincoln Town
      Car. And when agents raided his home four days later, $90,000 of the
      money turned up again, in the kitchen freezer.

      Christopher Drew reported from New Orleans for this article, and
      Robert Pear from Washington. Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from
      New Orleans.
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