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Ex-Rep. Accused Of Bribery Goes To Court

The process of selecting a jury for the corruption trial of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson begins Tuesday.

Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat who represented parts of New Orleans until losing his bid for re-election last year, goes on trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on charges including bribery and racketeering. He is accused of receiving more than $400,000 in bribes in return for using his influence to broker business deals in Africa.

Potential jurors will be given a questionnaire to fill out Tuesday. Attorneys are expected to question them individually Wednesday.

The trial is expected to last at least a month.

On Monday, Jefferson's brother asked a federal judge to dismiss the racketeering conspiracy case against him, his girlfriend and two of his relatives, calling it a politically motivated prosecution.

Arthur Lemann III, one of Mose Jefferson's lawyers, claims the case against his client is fueled by "the high tide of the public outrage" over the separate corruption charges against his brother, former Rep. William Jefferson, whose trial in Virginia is scheduled to start Tuesday.

"In the final analysis, this is a political prosecution initiated by the office of a Republican prosecutor against a minority neighborhood association led by the Jefferson family," Lemann wrote in a 20-page court filing Monday.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten wouldn't respond Monday to Lemann's claims, but he said the defense attorney has made similar allegations about prosecutors' supposed motives in other cases.

"We're not surprised to see that again," Letten said.

A 34-count indictment handed up last month accuses Mose Jefferson; his girlfriend, former state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt; his sister, New Orleans tax assessor Betty Jefferson; and his niece, Angela Coleman, of conspiring to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money earmarked for charitable and educational programs.

Gill Pratt was a member of the New Orleans city council when she allegedly arranged for the city to pay for office space in a building owned by Mose Jefferson. The indictment says Gill Pratt received a $5,000 share of that rental income, which Mose Jefferson also allegedly used to pay for her dues and throws for a Mardi Gras krewe.

Before she was elected to the city council, Gill Pratt allegedly used her House position to steer funding to nonprofit programs run by Mose and Betty Jefferson. The money was meant to help pregnant teens and "at-risk" youths, and to help clean up New Orleans neighborhoods, but prosecutors claim the defendants kept the money.

Lemann said the charges against Mose Jefferson and Gill Pratt aren't a product of "criminal design" but rather "the accident of birth for him and a romantic alliance for her."

"In essence," he wrote, "this prosecution seeks to criminalize the patronage system (for some) and the unwise widespread legislative practice of making general appropriation grants without restrictions on public use."

Lemann's bid to have the indictment dismissed is scheduled to be heard June 17 by U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle.

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