U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson was apparently quite astonished during an interview in August 2005 at his New Orleans home when asked by FBI Special Agent Timothy Thibault what he had done with "my $100,000."
Just days earlier, the FBI arranged a videotaped money swap with the Louisiana Democrat, who has since been indicted, outside a hotel in northern Virginia. During the interview with two agents, a very surprised Jefferson, after reviewing a DVD of his alleged acceptance of bribe money from a telecommunications businessman working for the FBI, "sunk back onto the couch and, with total dejection, remarked, 'what a waste,'" according to prosecutors in a new government filing.
Agent Thibault informed the congressman that the money came from the FBI. Jefferson responded, "I think I should stop talking with you boys."
The FBI then served Jefferson with a grand jury subpoena for records and advised him they were preparing to execute a warrant authorizing a search of his residence.
Congressman reportedly asked for advice
Jefferson sought advice from the agents as to what he should do. And, according to the court filing, "Jefferson also questioned how his reputation could survive."
After the New Orleans interview, which prosecutors say, "was so civil that Defendant Jefferson's wife and daughter remained asleep upstairs during the entire interview," FBI agents raided his Washington home.
They found $90,000 in the freezer on his F Street home near the Capitol, the money neatly hidden in boxes of frozen food.
According to the FBI inventory list, when agents opened Jefferson's freezer, they found $20,000 wrapped in foil in a Boca Burger box. The cash was separated in two stacks of $10,000 each with "rubber bands around each stack." Boca is known for its vegetarian soy patties.
The FBI found another $20,000 stashed inside a Pillsbury pie crust box. Again, the money was in two $10,000 stacks with rubber bands around each.
And three stacks of money containing $30,000 in total were discovered inside a bag from a local Yes Organic Market. Two more cash stacks, totaling $20,000, were found just wrapped in foil and placed in the freezer.
Jefferson was indicted in June, charged with 16 counts of bribery, money laundering and racketeering.
Lawyer wants trial moved
His lawyer, Robert Trout, has urged the court to move the trial, scheduled for January in Alexandria, Va., to the federal court in Washington, arguing that prosecutors deliberately chose to bring the case in the suburban Washington district because the jury pool is predominantly white.
"There is a convincing showing that the prosecution used forum selection to affect the racial make-up of the jury in this case," wrote Trout in a court filing.
On Friday, prosecutors responded, saying Jefferson's request for a change of venue was "based entirely upon offensive and baseless allegations of racial discrimination."
"Jefferson fails to present to this Court even one scintilla of evidence demonstrating that the decision to prosecute Defendant Jefferson in the Eastern District of Virginia was racially motivated," wrote U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg.
In May 2006, FBI agents, armed with a search warrant, raided Jefferson's congressional office and seized more than a dozen computer hard drives, several floppy disks and two boxes of documents.
A federal appeals court said in August that the FBI violated the Constitution when agents raided Jefferson's office and viewed his legislative documents.
The court wrote, "The review of the Congressman's paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive.
"The Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged," wrote the judges.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III will decide whether the Louisiana congressman's trial will stay in his Virginia courtroom or be moved elsewhere.