Hall of Shame /
Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.)
Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.)
- Rivals Duke Cunningham for the most outrageous bribery scandal allegations. Just when we thought the allegations of corruption could not get any more entertaining, the scandal stories of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) are keeping everyone tuned in to corruption sagas of Capitol Hill. The story includes $90,0000 in cold cash stuffed in a freezer, wiretaps and an FBI raid on Congress.
- The unfolding Jefferson scandal. In a guilty plea announced in January, 2006, former Jefferson aide Brett M. Pfeffer alleged that Jefferson demanded financial considerations in exchange for helping an investment firm establish a telecommunications company in Nigeria. Pfeffer, who served on Jefferson’s staff in the late 1990s, was the president of an investment company in McLean, Va., in 2004. Early that year, Jefferson told Pfeffer about a Kentucky-based company that held the rights to a technology that could be used to provide high-speed Internet service in Nigeria. Pfeffer, the founder of the Kentucky-based company, and an investor later held a meeting in Jefferson’s office.
The investor agreed to a plan to put $45 million into a new Nigerian internet company, primarily relying on a loan from the Export-Import bank. Jefferson allegedly aided the plan by traveling to Nigeria to meet with officials and holding meetings with Export-Import Bank officials to facilitate a loan. But Jefferson’s work on the Nigerian venture carried a price. In summer 2004, Jefferson allegedly said he would require that 5 percent to 7 percent of the newly formed Nigerian company be awarded to members of his family and that a family member receive $2,500 to $5,000 in monthly retainers
In July 2005, Jefferson, Pfeffer and an employee of the Kentucky-based company pursued a venture in Ghana similar to the effort in Nigeria. Jefferson allegedly traveled to Ghana, met with Ghanaian officials and met with representatives of the Export-Import bank to promote the deal. Pheffer believes that Jefferson also stood to gain financially by the Ghana deal, although he offered less specific evidence.
Both the Nigerian and Ghanaian deals collapsed after the investor pulled out. Jefferson has denied that he ever demanded or accepted “anything on behalf of myself, any member of my family or any third party.” [Statement of Facts, 1/11/2006; Times-Picayune, 1/12/2006and 1/14/2006; Washington Post, 8/13/2005]
- Investor turns informant and wears a wire. According to an FBI search warrant, Jefferson was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire. In one instance, at an unidentified D.C. restaurant, Jefferson allegedly exchanged cryptic notes with investor Lori Mody and discussed illegal kickbacks for his children in a telecommunications venture in Nigeria in which she had invested. “All these damn notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking as if the FBI is watching,” he told Mody, who was indeed wearing an FBI wire. The FBI probe began in March 2005 after Mody became concerned that Jefferson and others were trying to defraud her of millions of dollars that she had invested in iGate Inc., a Louisville high-tech company, the affidavit said. That was when the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria set up a sting. [Washington Post, 5/22/2006]
- Cold cash in the freezer. As part of the investigation against Jefferson, on August 3, 2005, federal agents executed search warrants against Jefferson's homes, car, and offices as part of an undisclosed investigation. The federal agents seized $90,000 in cash that was stuffed in plastic bags in Jefferson’s home freezer. This $90,000 was part of the $100,000 in cash that was handed over to Jefferson and videotaped in the sting operation. Five other offices were raided across the country in conjunction with the raid on Jefferson's property.
- Former aide pleads guilty. Former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer, who was intimately involved in the scandal, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe Jefferson as part of a plea bargain with the Department of Justice. On May 26, 2006, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
- Looking out for himself. Jefferson was criticized by ABC News for the apparent misuse of National Guard resources to check on his personal belongings and property at the height of the Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts. According to a military source, Jefferson delayed two heavy trucks, a helicopter and several National Guard members for over an hour while he went back into his house to retrieve “a laptop computer, three suitcases and a box about the size of a small refrigerator.” [ABC News, 9/15/2005]
- Feds storm Capitol Hill. On May 20th FBI agents raided Jefferson's Capitol Hill office and stayed for 17 hours collecting documents. This was the first time that the FBI had raided and searched a Congressional office. The raid followed explicit procedures laid out in a judge-approved search warrant. Nevertheless, it has created a furor on Capitol Hill as lawmakers from both parties have charged the FBI with violating the constitutional separation of powers between the congressional and executive branches. [Washington Post, 5/22/2006; Associated Press, 5/24/2006]
To keep up to date on these stories and other corruption news, go to our Watchdog Blog.