WASHINGTON – Rep. William Jefferson accused the Justice Department of bringing corruption charges against him in Virginia to reduce the chance of drawing black jurors.
Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat who has been charged in an international bribery case, made the argument Friday in federal court documents seeking to move the case to Washington.
"The court has an obligation to ensure that the forum selection in this case was not tainted by racially discriminatory motive," Jefferson's attorney, Robert P. Trout wrote.
Jefferson, who is black, argued that the government's case focuses on his Washington office, not Virginia. He accused the FBI of using a cooperating witness to steer the case to Virginia.
The federal court in Alexandria, Va., where Jefferson is charged, draws jurors from about 2 million people in surrounding counties. Blacks represent about 11 percent of that population, according to the U.S. Census.
In Washington, blacks make up about 57 percent of the city's 515,000 residents.
"There is a convincing showing that the prosecution used forum selection to affect the racial make-up of the jury in this case," Trout wrote in documents filed in Alexandria.
Friday's court filing was just the latest example of the case's racial undertones. After Jefferson's indictment, supporters accused the Bush administration of targeting black Democrats to shift attention from the legal woes of Republicans.
Jefferson pleaded not guilty in June to charges of soliciting more than $500,000 in bribes while using his office to broker business deals in Africa. Authorities found about $90,000 in a freezer in the congressman's Washington home.
Jefferson's lawyers said it makes no sense for the trial to be held in Virginia. The entire scheme is alleged to have centered around Jefferson's congressional office and most of the Virginia connections are tenuous, such as using Dulles International Airport, attorneys said.
One of the key Virginia moments in the case — a payoff from a businessman, allegedly meant to be passed on to a foreign official — was orchestrated by the FBI, attorneys said.
The businessman, who was cooperating with the FBI, insisted that his meeting with Jefferson be changed from Washington to a Virginia hotel, according to Jefferson's court documents.