Lawyers for Rep. William Jefferson entered a motion in federal court today claiming prosecutors filed the corruption case against the Louisiana Democrat in a U.S. court in Virginia only to avoid the predominantly black jury pools that would be available to them in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.
Jefferson’s attorneys asked the court to order the case moved from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and asked for an investigation of the decision-making process that led the Justice Department to file its charges there.
Jefferson was indicted in June on 18 corruption charges, based on allegations that he took bribes from business owners in exchange for helping their businesses; the FBI famously recovered $90,000 from the Congressman’s freezer, cash which was allegedly to be used to bribe officials in Nigeria.
Jefferson’s motion for change of venue argues that there is no reason for the case to be tried in Virginia, and that it appears “the prosecution used forum selection to affect the racial make-up of the jury in this case.”
The bulk of the alleged crimes took place in D.C., where Jefferson’s Congressional office is, or in New Orleans, where Jefferson resides. The primary connection to Virginia is that an FBI informant, at the direction of the FBI, invited Jefferson to Virginia for a meeting to hand over cash, the motion argues.
“The defendant is African American, and the government’s chosen venue has a markedly lower percentage of African Americans in the potential jury pool than the District of Columbia, where the case fairly belongs,” his lawyers wrote.
The motion is one of a flurry of challenges Jefferson’s team filed Friday against the bribery charges he faces, including motions requesting some evidence against him be ruled out of order, and that the most serious charges be thrown out because there is no evidence that Jefferson conducted any “official acts” in exchange for payment.
— Paul Singer