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Bribery allegedly caught on tape

Court filing says congressman hid cash in freezer

WASHINGTON -- US Representative William Jefferson, the subject of a 14-month bribery investigation, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire, according to an affidavit released yesterday.

A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided the Louisiana Democrat's home in Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, the document said. The cash, in $10,000 increments, was wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed in frozen food containers, it said.

The search warrant affidavit, used to raid Jefferson's Capitol Hill office Saturday night, portrays him as a money-hungry man who freely solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and discussed payoffs to African officials.

It said he had a history of involvement in numerous bribery schemes and used his family to hide his interest in high-tech business ventures he promoted in Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon.

In one instance, at an unnamed District of Columbia restaurant, Jefferson was exchanging cryptic notes with investor Lori Mody and discussing illegal kickbacks for his children in a telecommunications venture in Nigeria in which she had invested, the affidavit said.

''All these damn notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking as if the FBI is watching," he told Mody, who was wearing an FBI wire.

About 15 FBI agents entered Jefferson's office in the Rayburn House Office Building about 7:15 Saturday night and left about 1 p.m. yesterday. Authorities said it was the first time the FBI had raided the office of a sitting member of the House of Representatives.

The affidavit was the most damaging material to date in the FBI investigation of Jefferson, 59, who has not been charged and has insisted he is innocent. He is also the subject of a House Ethics Committee inquiry.

The Justice Department is conducting three separate bribery investigations involving members of Congress in both parties. The turmoil increased last week when the House Ethics Committee broke a 16-month partisan gridlock and announced inquiries into the same matters.

On Wednesday, leaders of the committee announced full investigations of Jefferson and Representative Robert W. Ney, Republican of Ohio. They also announced a preliminary inquiry into whether other House members were bribed by defense contractors who corrupted former representative Randy ''Duke" Cunningham, Republican of California. He pleaded guilty and is serving an eight-year sentence.

Earlier this year, Jefferson's lawyers explored the possibility of a plea agreement, according to those familiar with the talks. He changed lawyers recently and has issued vehement denials of wrongdoing as federal investigators move closer to deciding whether to seek his indictment.

''As I have previously stated, I have never, over all the years of my public service, accepted payment from anyone for the performance of any act or duty for which I have been elected," he said this month. His press secretary, Melanie Roussell, declined to comment yesterday.

Jefferson's lawyer, Robert Trout, called the raids outrageous, saying disclosure of the previously sealed affidavit was ''part of a public relations agenda and an attempt to embarrass" Jefferson. ''The affidavit itself is just one side of the story which has not been tested in court."

The FBI declined to comment.

The FBI investigation began in March 2005 after Mody became concerned that Jefferson and others were trying to defraud her of millions that she had invested in iGate Inc., a Louisville high-tech company, the affidavit said. That was when the FBI and the US attorney's office in Alexandria set up a sting.

Since January, Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide who worked for Mody, and Vernon Jackson, owner of iGate Inc., have pleaded guilty to bribing the eight-term representative to promote iGate's broadband technology in Africa.

According to the affidavit, during one of many recorded conversations with Mody, Jefferson said he knew a businessman who was ''corrupt" but was interested in investing in the iGate project in Africa.

On July 21, 2005, Jefferson told Mody he would need to give Nigeria's vice president, Atiku Abubakar, $500,000 ''as a motivating factor" to make sure they obtained business contracts for iGate and her company in Nigeria.

A few days later, they talked about passing on a smaller amount of money. But Jefferson refrained from actually using the word ''money" and pointed to the word ''cash" written on a piece of paper.

A short time later, Jefferson and Mody met at an Arlington, Va., hotel and went to Mody's car trunk. ''At that time, Congressman Jefferson reached in and removed a reddish-brown-colored leather briefcase which contained $100,000 in cash" as FBI agents filmed the transaction, the affidavit said.

Jefferson put it in his 1990 Lincoln Town Car and drove off, the affidavit said. A few days later, FBI agents seized $90,000 in bills with the same serial numbers from Jefferson's freezer.

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