By Jordan Weissmann
In the minutes before closing arguments began this morning in the trial of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III offered a bit of advice to prosecutors who had suggested their presentation could last a full two hours. “My son is an entertainer,” said Ellis, a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia. “And he can’t hold my attention that long.” The word of caution seemed to go unheeded.
For roughly two hours, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows delivered a painstakingly detailed recap of the government’s case against Jefferson, who is accused of trading his services as a congressman for bribes. The goal, it appeared, was to head off the defense argument that Jefferson was the victim of an FBI setup. Bellows emphasized that Jefferson allegedly had been courting bribes long before federal investigators began watching him. He has broken the law in “ways almost too numerous to count,” Bellows said.
She described the series of failed business deals that Jefferson had tried to set up in Africa, in which he allegedly pushed companies to hire his family members as consultants. Then there was the retelling of Jefferson’s involvement with iGate, the Louisville, Ky.-based tech company whose chief executive, Vernon Jackson, pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson. And there was the story of how Jefferson allegedly conspired with Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody to bribe the vice president of Nigeria.
Mody was wearing a wire for the FBT at the time, and the defense is expected to argue that she goaded Jefferson into agreeing to the scheme. But Bellows told the jury that there was nothing unusual about the Jefferson’s behavior with Mody.
“The Mody scheme was different in only one respect,” Bellows said. “It was caught on tape.”
The defense makes its closing case this afternoon.