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In Jefferson’s Case, What Gives?

Here’s the question: Is William Jefferson still on trial for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? His indictment included an FCPA count and the cash found in his freezer was supposed to be evidence of an antibribery offense. But the ex-congressman’s trial has been going on for a few weeks now and we haven’t heard anything about the FCPA. So we’re wondering if it’s still part of the case.

The FCPA allegations against Jefferson were based on things he said to the feds’ confidential witness — called “CW” in the indictment. That’s Lori Mody, a Virginia businesswoman who invested in his deals. According to the government, she soon realized he was crooked and decided to blow the whistle. She went to the FBI and they convinced her to wear a wire to her next meeting with Jefferson and some that followed.

When the trial came around, she was all set to be the government’s star witness. Her job, the way we understand it, was to tell her story and narrate the secret tapes she’d made, which in turn would corroborate her testimony. But then she changed her mind and said she wouldn’t testify after all. The prosecutors went ahead without her. They played excerpts from her tapes to the jury and an FBI agent provided “authentication” testimony.

The indictment had said that in July 2005 she and Jefferson talked about his plan to bribe “Nigerian Official A.” That was about three months after Mody started wearing a wire. But if her tapes didn’t record their specific chats about Nigerian Official A, the government might have no way to tell that part of the story without her live testimony.

According to a Louisiana news site, there are problems with most of the tapes:

Jefferson could not be heard on a majority of the tapes played in the courtroom. Clanging and chatter in the restaurants drowned out most of his responses, which he also mumbled. Jurors were given headphones and transcripts of the discussions.

The government had made big deal about the FCPA count before the trial started. The FBI had given Mody $100,000 in marked bills to pass to Jefferson after he allegedly told her about his plan to bribe Nigerian Official A. The money was supposed to be a down payment to the foreign official. It was that cash — $90,000 of it at least — that the FBI later found in Jefferson’s freezer. (So what? his lawyers said before the trial. If the cash was still in the freezer, it proved he didn’t use it to bribe anyone.)

We aren’t in the courtroom and haven’t heard the tapes or seen any transcripts. We could have missed reports about the prosecution’s FCPA-related evidence. But there’s another possibility. That Lori Mody’s absence blew some serious holes in the government’s case, and one of those holes is where the FCPA count used to be.

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