During the second day of the William Jefferson corruption trial, prosecutors seemed intent on hammering home two points: The former congressman had used his office to gin up business for a small tech company; then his family got paid for the work.
Prosecutors spent all their time Wednesday questioning Vernon Jackson, the iGate chief executive who pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson in return for help arranging business deals in West Africa. It was Jackson’s second day on the stand, where he recounted the details of his relationship with Jefferson between 2000 and 2005.
In his testimony on Tuesday, Jackson — a bald, heavyset man with a soft voice and graying goatee — had said that he had hired a consulting firm owned by Jefferson’s wife to promote his fledgling company, knowing full well that he was actually paying for Jefferson’s services as a congressman. Today, prosecutors painstakingly walked through each of the deals Jefferson tried to set up for iGate, which sold hardware to speed Internet access across copper phone lines.
There was the meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers. There was the $44 million deal Jefferson teed up with Nigeria’s NDTV. When that agreement went sour, Jefferson found a new investor, Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody. There were talks about selling the technology to Cameroon.
As the testimony unfolded, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows presented invoice after invoice, signed by Andrea Jefferson, requesting payment for her consulting firm, ANJ. Each time, Bellows asked whether Mrs. Jefferson or ANJ had performed services that would entitle them to the money. No, said Jackson, they had not.
Who had done the work? William Jefferson, he said.
As Jackson put it, the congressman had earned “sweat equity” in the company. His wife just happened to own the stock. And the invoices always had her name.
In opening statements Tuesday, Jefferson defense lawyer Robert Trout, name partner at Trout Cacheris, had argued that Jackson hired ANJ because Jackson was interested in selling his product to historically black colleges. Andrea Jefferson was a vice chancellor at Southern University in New Orleans, just such a school, Trout noted.
There was no mention today of the colleges. Instead, Jackson described the way Jefferson would present himself in meetings with foreign leaders as a congressman with a renowned interest in African development. In none of the meetings, Jackson said, did Jefferson describe himself as a private businessman.
Many times, Jefferson explicitly denied he had any investment in iGate, Jackson said. When the NDTV deal began to crumble, the Nigerians threatened to have iGate’s principals prosecuted for fraud. Prosecutors presented a letter in which the company’s owners said they were “dismayed” that a U.S. congressman had lured them into the contract, that they knew Jefferson owned shares in iGate, and that they were ready to inform the U.S. Department of Justice and Congress.
Jefferson responded in writing that he had no investments at all in the company. The prosecution produced yet another letter from Jefferson, this one to the Nigerian president. It accused NDTV’s executives of greed and promoted iGate’s ability to make Nigeria “the broadband hub of Africa.” Nowhere did it mention his wife’s service.
Jackson will continue on the stand tomorrow.