The one-time middleman for KBR and its partners stood before Judge Keith P. Ellison in a Houston courtroom in February. Jeffrey Tesler faced up to ten years in prison.
Judge Ellison sentenced him to twenty-one months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Tesler, 63, reported to prison in April.
Here’s the unforgettable exchange between Tesler and Judge Ellison on that day in February:
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THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, thank you for allowing me a few minutes to appear before you. I come before you to express great remorse for my actions. I wish I could turn the clock back to 1993 and undo the grief and suffering I have caused this court, society, my community, my friends and especially my family. In the late ’70s and ’80s I was a simple lawyer with a mostly British client base. In due course I met and advised Nigerian clients in their property transactions in the United Kingdom. Eventually, I became an advisor and liaison between the Nigerian elite and the TSK joint venture and the project at issue in this case. I relished the opportunity to talk with prominent government officials and leaders of multinational corporations on the world’s largest civil construction project in 1993.
THE COURT: I am sure that was very exciting. I am sure it was very interesting to be involved in.
THE DEFENDANT: However, I allowed myself to accept standards of behavior in a business culture which can never be justified. I accepted the system of corruption that existed in Nigeria. I turned a blind eye to what was happening and I am guilty of the offenses charged. In hindsight, I should have withdrawn immediately from the actions which I undertook and rejected the terms that were offered to me by the TSKJ joint venture to facilitate bribes to high-ranking Nigerian officials, although it would not have been easy to extricate myself without risking the lives of myself and my family. I have had a lot of time to reflect and there is no day when I do not regret my weakness of character and being caught up in a violent military culture with customs that are harmful to the social fabric and breach of laws. I wish to say that I am truly sorry and I wish to apologize to the Court and, most importantly, I have to apologize for the grief and unwarranted suffering I have caused my wife, children and grandchildren and my wife’s circle of friends who have expressed their support in writing directly to Your Honor in my behalf. I ask the Court to consider that I have already suffered a punishment for my actions. I have lived for the last ten years under investigation. I have irreparably lost my good name, position in society, professional livelihood and I will be disbarred. During the past twelve months I have been living under virtual house arrest, cut off from my wife, my daughters and grandchildren, one of whom has been having and continues to have treatment for life-threatening cancer.
THE COURT: My thoughts will be with you.
THE DEFENDANT: Thank you very much, Your Honor. I should have been with her at that time.
THE COURT: I agree. And you have also had another enormous family tragedy, I know.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: And I am very sorry you didn’t find a house of worship here. I’m sure that would have been of great value to you.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes. It’s been unfortunate in recent years, Your Honor. My absence has been very hard for my family to bear. Mostly, they have had to deal with my granddaughter’s illness. As I do not drive, my life is essentially confined to one square block in Houston: my apartment, supermarket, synagogue where I go twice a day for prayers and to the nearby Jewish community center. I have no friends or family in Texas. I have nothing left to live for except to spend the last few years, which God may graciously grant me, to seek forgiveness and to be back with my family in England as well. I ask this court to mercifully allow me to reunite with my family, especially my grandchildren. My family’s absence over the past year and the hardship of talking to them over many times zones away has allowed me to realize the only joy a man can have is to grow old surrounded by the proximity of his family. I have, indeed, lost a great part of my grandchildren’s childhood which I will never get back. I have learned from my mistakes and there is no prospect of my offending again. Thank you, Your Honor, for allowing me to speak.
THE COURT: One thing I do want to be clear in your mind, Mr. Tesler, is I have not at all been insensitive to the rest of your life. It’s been a life of compassion, generosity, good judgment and love, and I do know that and I think you can take enormous pride in that.
THE DEFENDANT: Thank you, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you very much. You spoke very well.
THE DEFENDANT: Thank you.