U.S. Rep. William Jefferson has lost a bid to keep an FBI search warrant application sealed in the federal bribery probe that is targeting the eight-term congressman and has already netted two guilty pleas.
U.S. District Judge William Connelly delayed releasing the document spelling out the details of the government's case against Jefferson, giving him three days to appeal. But in deciding to open the documents Monday, the judge confirmed that a cooperating witness had secretly recorded phone conversations and face-to-face meetings with Jefferson, who until now had been referred to in court documents only as "Representative A."
Jefferson has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
The nine-page decision, obtained by The Times-Picayune, also revealed that in addition to investigating whether Jefferson accepted bribes to help a U.S. telecommunications company in Africa, prosecutors also are looking into allegations he bribed a foreign official. The judge's ruling did not provide details of the latter allegation.
On Aug. 3, FBI agents raided the Maryland home of Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the same day agents served search warrants on Jefferson's homes in New Orleans and Washington.
Jefferson fought release of the search warrant documents — which contain excerpts of wiretapped conversations — saying they could taint his reputation and unfairly prejudice the grand jury in northern Virginia investigating him or a trial jury if his case ever gets that far.
The judge agreed that the wiretap references should remain sealed but he decided that since two people had already pleaded guilty in the case and many of the details have been revealed in the press, there was no reason to keep other details under wraps.
For similar reasons, the government did not oppose the release.
"In balancing the interests of Congressman Jefferson to protect his privacy and reputation against the interest of the public, the court finds the public interest outweighs the interests of Congressman Jefferson," Connelly wrote.
Jefferson's congressional office declined to comment. His Washington attorney did not return telephone messages Monday inquiring whether the congressman would appeal.
The ruling was in response to a motion filed by The Washington Post to open access to the affidavit in support of the search warrant of Abubakar's home in Potomac, Md.
Jefferson is alleged to have visited the house last July in an effort to persuade the vice president to salvage a $45 million deal in Nigeria involving the Kentucky telecommunications firm, iGate Corp.
Vernon Jackson, iGate's CEO, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy and bribery, telling a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., that at Jefferson's insistence, he transferred 30 million shares of iGate stock and paid more than $450,000 to a company controlled by the congressman's family. In exchange, Jackson said, Jefferson agreed to use his official position to push for iGate to get business in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.
In January, former Jefferson congressional aide Brett Pfeffer also pleaded guilty to bribery charges saying that Jefferson demanded money from a northern Virginia businesswoman who had agreed to invest in iGate. After putting $3.5 million into the company, Lori Mody decided to cooperate with federal authorities in their probe of Jefferson. Connelly's ruling said that Mody alleges that she was defrauded out of the money.