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Monday, May 29, 2006

The predator

REUTERS/Kamal Kishore
I smell money

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

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.


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.

"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.
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.


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.

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

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."


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.

Renting TV's to the poor is among the scummiest businesses in America. It's like you're stealing from them with near usurious rates. A slumlord? Getting work for family members?

Jefferson wanted to be rich without doing the work to be rich.His ego said politics, but his wallet said business deals. He could have practiced any kind of law, but chose politics and then wanted to make his family rich as well.

Other people do it, and it's as wrong, but it seemed like Jefferson liked to prey on the weak and poor to make his money

posted by Steve @ 1:10:00 AM

1:10:00 AM

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