ALEXANDRIA, Va. — From four different angles, jurors saw a former Louisiana congressman accept a suitcase filled with $100,000 on videos played in court Tuesday.
The July 2005 handoff of the suitcase from an FBI cooperating witness to former Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat who represented parts of New Orleans, is one of the key pieces of evidence in the ongoing bribery trial of Jefferson. He's accused of accepting more than $400,000 in bribes in exchange for brokering business deals in Africa.
Four days after Jefferson picked up the suitcase of cash outside a northern Virginia hotel, FBI agents searched Jefferson's Washington home and found $90,000 of the money hidden in his freezer.
The recordings played in U.S. District Court show Lori Mody, a northern Virginia businesswoman who cooperated with an FBI investigation, leading Jefferson to the trunk of a car parked outside the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Pentagon City. Jefferson reaches in, grabs the suitcase and puts it in a small duffel bag.
The FBI recorded the handoff from five different angles, and four of those were shown to jurors.
According to prosecutors, Jefferson told Mody that he needed the $100,000 as a down-payment bribe to be paid to the vice president of Nigeria to facilitate a multimillion-dollar telecommunications deal in that country.
Jefferson's defense lawyers have argued that Jefferson never intended to pay a bribe to Nigeria's then-vice president Atiku Abubakar, and took the money only to placate Mody. They said Mody had been badgering Jefferson at the FBI's behest and insisting that bribes be paid to everyone involved in the deal.
Abubakar has denied wrongdoing.
'I need a briefcase'
On the recordings, Jefferson appears wary of accepting the cash in such an open place. Mody, on the other hand, consistently discusses the deal to Jefferson's chagrin.
At one point, after they open the car trunk, Mody asks Jefferson, "Would you like to take a peek?" at the contents of the suitcase.
"No, I would not," Jefferson replies tersely.
Mody says "I hope that gives the VP what he needs to work hard for us." To which Jefferson replies, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Mody concludes the conversation by saying, "I hope you enjoy the briefcase." Jefferson replies, "I need a briefcase."
Two days after the handoff, Jefferson and Mody met again. Mody, at the FBI's request, prepared a written agenda of topics to be covered at the meeting. One of the topics is the "package," an apparent reference to the suitcase.
"Do you know how little I want to talk about some of these things?" a frustrated Jefferson asks Mody as he scans Mody's agenda, which she titled a Master Action Item Checklist.
At Mody's insistence, Jefferson tells her that he delivered "the African art" to the vice president and that he was pleased to receive it.
It was Mody who launched the FBI investigation of Jefferson in March 2005, when she told the FBI that she thought some of Jefferson's business partners had cheated her out of more than $3 million. Mody agreed to wear a wire for the FBI and was assigned the code name "Cascade." She recorded many of her subsequent conversations with Jefferson.
Although the recording were played in open court, court officials and prosecutors have declined to make copies of the recordings publicly available.
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