NEW ORLEANS – A former school board president who ran as a corruption fighter has admitted taking more than $100,000 in bribes, and a newspaper reported Wednesday that the source allegedly was a brother of indicted U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson.
Ellenese Brooks-Simms, 67, was to be charged Wednesday in a federal bill of information and will cooperate in the investigation "to see that justice is done ... and that everyone involved in this wrongdoing is disclosed," her attorney, Ralph Capitelli, confirmed.
"It's rare, especially in these times, for an elected official who has done something wrong to simply admit that wrongdoing and be willing to accept the consequences," he told The Times-Picayune on Tuesday. Capitelli was not at his home or office when called early Wednesday.
The newspaper quoted unidentified sources close to the case as saying that the bribe allegedly was paid by Mose Jefferson, the congressman's brother and chief political strategist.
Nobody answered calls to numbers under that name Wednesday. The Times-Picayune said he declined to comment Tuesday about Brooks-Simms.
The newspaper quoted its sources as saying that Jefferson would not be charged Wednesday and the court papers would not identify the businessman who allegedly paid Brooks-Simms for her support of a multimillion-dollar contract.
The sources told the paper that the firm involved was JRL Enterprises, which markets the "I CAN Learn" curriculum and reportedly paid Mose Jefferson a lobbying fee of at least $500,000, the sources said.
Brooks-Simms served on the Orleans Parish School Board from 2000 to 2004.
The last board member to be prosecuted was Dwight McKenna, convicted in 1992 of income tax evasion unrelated to his service on the board.
Brooks-Simms is the 29th and highest-ranking person accused in a five-year federal investigation of Orleans Parish schools. A string of plea deals has revealed kickback schemes in construction and insurance deals, along with thefts in the payroll department.
Brooks-Simms joined other school officials in inviting the FBI to set up shop in district headquarters, and boasted repeatedly of her efforts to crack down on corruption.
She often mentioned the $70,000-a-year earnings of then-Superintendent Al Davis' father, a janitor at Carver High School, and of the scam involving insurance department manager Carl Coleman, who pleaded guilty to accepting more than $300,000 in kickbacks from a construction contractor.
JRL Enterprises creates software to help students learn algebra at their own pace, which it sells with computers. It was founded by New Orleanian John Lee, a longtime supporter of William Jefferson and his extended political family.
Lee confirmed Tuesday that he had hired the congressman's brother to "facilitate introductions to the decision-makers here in Orleans Parish," though he couldn't remember the fee or which officials Mose Jefferson helped the company lobby.
If Mose Jefferson paid a bribe, Lee said, he violated his contract with JRL.
"I am chagrined at the fact that there was something apparently untoward going on when all I was doing was trying to present my successful program to the decision-makers here in Orleans Parish," he said. "In fact, the purchases were made, and the result was cutting the achievement gap."
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in 2005 that JRL had received $45 million in congressional grants since 1998, the first via former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who was then chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. When he resigned in 1999 and turned to lobbying, he took JRL as one of his first clients.
In July 2005 -- a month before the FBI raided his homes in Washington and New Orleans -- William Jefferson issued a news release indicating he had secured $2.5 million to help JRL add more of its terminals to Orleans Parish schools.
Jefferson spokeswoman Remi Braden-Cooper said the congressman can't remember whether he played a role in securing any other federal money for the company. Jefferson did not know his brother lobbied for JRL, she said.