Jefferson Prosecutors, Defense Head Toward Closing Arguments

Posted July 23, 2009 at 3:33pm

Closing arguments in the criminal trial of ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) are scheduled to begin Tuesday.After five weeks and numerous witnesses, federal prosecutors in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia rested their case Thursday morning, followed by Jefferson’s defense team, which completed its arguments in less than four hours.Jefferson is charged in a 16-count indictment that alleges he violated federal law by offering and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to promote business ventures in West African nations.Attorneys for the Louisiana Democrat called two witnesses and then played about 90 minutes of various FBI wiretaps. Jefferson did not testify in his own defense.In the recorded conversations played for the jury Thursday — prefaced only with the date and the location where each snippet took place — the defense sought to reiterate its assertion that Jefferson did not break any laws, framing his business deals as private transactions that did not cross into his official duties as a House lawmaker.In one conversation, recorded in 2002 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., Jefferson tells businesswoman Lori Mody, also an FBI informant, that he cannot be named as an investor in their West African business deal because it could be viewed as unseemly.“Oh God, they’re making special arrangements because this guy’s involved,’— Jefferson said, offering a hypothetical criticism. By not being named as an investor in the project, “you avoid the appearance, the appearance of impropriety,— he added.Jefferson also appeared to cite House rules during the conversation, noting prohibitions on specific kinds of income for lawmakers: “There are rules against my receiving earned income,— he said.At the same time, the defense, which has characterized the FBI investigation as deeply flawed, also selected conversations that sought to cast doubt on Mody’s character — including an extended conversation in which she describes being “stalked— by numerous, unnamed individuals. Mody did not testify during the trial.Although District Judge T.S. Ellis initially refused to allow the defense to play all 90 minutes of its selected audio recordings, he reversed his decision after federal prosecutors agreed to drop their objections to the material.“The rulings of the court have the effect of eviscerating the defense,— lead defense attorney Robert Trout told Ellis during debate on the recordings. In addition, Jefferson’s attorneys called Justin Cox, a physician in the Office of the Attending Physician, and Larry Stockstill, a Baker, La., pastor.The defense did not call former Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), who had been approved as an expert witness.