Feds: Lawmaker Hid Bribe In Freezer

Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. AP (file)

A congressman under investigation for bribery was caught on videotape accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded, according to a court document released Sunday. Authorities say agents later found most of the cash hidden in his freezer.

Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who represents New Orleans, has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

According to the court document, Jefferson - in one audiotaped meeting - 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.

According to the document, 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,"' according to the affidavit.

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. Authorities say 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.

Authorities say 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.

Earlier this year, Brett Pfeffer, 37, a former legislative director to Jefferson, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting bribery of a public official and conspiracy.

The new details about the case emerged after federal agents searched Jefferson's congressional office on Capitol Hill Saturday night and Sunday. The nearly 100-page affidavit for a search warrant, made public Sunday with large portions blacked out, spells out much of the evidence so far.

The document includes excerpts of conversations between Jefferson and an unidentified business executive from northern Virginia. She agreed to wear a wire after she approached the FBI with complaints that Jefferson and an associate had ripped her off in a business deal.

Jefferson's lawyer, Robert Trout, contends that the prosecutors' disclosure was "part of a public relations agenda and an attempt to embarrass Congressman Jefferson. The affidavit itself is just one side of the story which has not been tested in court," Trout said in a statement.

The affidavit says Jefferson was caught on videotape at the Ritz-Carlton as he took a reddish-brown briefcase from the trunk of the informant's car, slips it into a cloth bag, puts the bag into his 1990 Lincoln Town Car and drives away.

The $100 bills in the suitcase allegedly had the same serial numbers as those found in Jefferson's freezer.

  • Sean Alfano

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