May 29, 2006

Jefferson's History Of Sleaze

I never realized what a sleazy character William Jefferson is -- I've been so busy focussing on the current dust-up over bribe-taking that I never looked into his background. Interestingly enough, no less than the New York Times has trotted out a litany of dirt stretching back a couple of decades. And the sad thing is that Jefferson, had he stuck to an ethical path, would be a superb role model to hold up to my students coming out of a poor background.

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.

* * *

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.

I've got kids who come from families like that -- kids whose families do migrant farm work during the summer, kids who work after school to make sure there is food on the table for the rest of the family. William Jefferson ought to be an example to them of how to succeed -- except he fell into stuff like this.

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.

Tax-cheat, gouger of the poor, slum-lord, deadbeat -- I suppose even some of that could be forgiven, overlooked, or explained. He was trying to serve his community, and he got in over his head. Not that anyone would buy such an argument if he were a Republican -- look at how the Democrats have gone after Michael Steele over personal financial issues not nearly so severe.

And then we get this, after he became the go-to guy for doing business in Africa during the Clinton administration. From that point forward, his dealings with companies seeking business opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa became more convoluted -- and much more shady.

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.

Which leads us, of course, to the current crisis, sparked by Jefferson's refusal to cooperate with investigators or to turn over subpoenaed documents. From a position of great promise, Jefferson has fallen prey to his own baser instincts. I cannot help but see similarities to Duke Cunningham in Jefferson's fall.

Ed Lasky of American Thinker sees this article very differently.

* * *

I would also like to point to the interesting work of two bloggers -- A.J. Strata and Mac Ranger. Both have looked at this case and found another interesting angle -- the Clinton Administration connection to Jefferson. Who seems to be the prominent individual who may have played a major role in the development of Jefferson's African connections and portfolio? Joe Wilson -- Bush-basher and proven liar. Maybe his dishonesty goes even further.

OPEN TRACKBACKING TO: Conservative Cat, Sed Vitae, Mark My Words, Stop the ACLU, Stuck on Stupid, Basil's Blog, Committe of Correspondence, NIF, Right Wing Nation

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