ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Allegedly scamming a Virginia businesswoman could prove to be a major mistake for a Democratic congressman from New Orleans.
The FBI revealed Sunday that Rep. William Jefferson (news, bio, voting record), under investigation for bribery, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded. Agents later found the cash hidden in his freezer, according to a court document released Sunday.
At one meeting captured on audiotape, Jefferson chuckles about writing in code to keep secret what the government contends was his corrupt role in getting his children a cut of a communications company's deal for work in Africa.
As Jefferson and the informant passed notes about what percentage the lawmaker's family might receive, the congressman "began laughing and said, 'All these damn notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking, as if the FBI is watching,'" he told the businesswoman, who was wearing an FBI recording device.
Jefferson has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.
As for the $100,000, the government says Jefferson got the money in a leather briefcase last July 30 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington. The plan was for the lawmaker to use the cash to bribe a high-ranking Nigerian official — the name is blacked out in the court document — to ensure the success of a business deal in that country, the affidavit said.
All but $10,000 was recovered on Aug. 3 when the FBI searched Jefferson's home in Washington. The money was stuffed in his freezer, wrapped in $10,000 packs and concealed in food containers and aluminum foil.
Two of Jefferson's associates have pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in federal court in Alexandria. One, businessman Vernon Jackson of Louisville, Ky., admitted paying more than $400,000 in bribes to the lawmaker in exchange for his help securing business deals for Jackson's telecommunications company in Nigeria and other African countries.
The new details about the case emerged after the FBI searched Jefferson's congressional office on Capitol Hill Saturday night and Sunday. The nearly 100-page affidavit for a search warrant, made public Sunday with large portions blacked out, spells out much of the evidence so far.
The document includes excerpts of conversations between Jefferson and an unidentified business executive from northern Virginia. She agreed to wear a wire after she approached the FBI with complaints Jefferson and an associate had ripped her off in a business deal.
Jefferson's lawyer, Robert Trout, said in a statement that the prosecutors' disclosure was "part of a public relations agenda and an attempt to embarrass Congressman Jefferson. The affidavit itself is just one side of the story which has not been tested in court."
The affidavit says Jefferson is caught on videotape at the Ritz-Carlton as he takes a reddish-brown briefcase from the trunk of the informant's car, slips it into a cloth bag, puts the bag into his 1990 Lincoln Town Car and drives away.
The $100 bills in the suitcase had the same serial numbers as those found in Jefferson's freezer.
While the name of the intended recipient of the $100,000 is blacked out, other details in the affidavit indicate he is Abubakar Atiku, Nigeria's vice president. He owns a home in Potomac, Md., that authorities have searched as part of the Jefferson investigation.
The Jefferson investigation has provided some cover for Republicans who have suffered black eyes in the investigations of current and former GOP lawmakers, including Tom DeLay of Texas, the former majority leader.
Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California, a Vietnam-era jetfighter ace, was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison for accepting bribes on a scale unparalleled in the history of Congress.