ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal judge Friday rejected an effort by a Louisiana congressman charged with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to move his trial out of northern Virginia.
Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., had argued that the government unfairly brought charges against him in suburban Alexandria rather than the District of Columbia because it wanted a venue where fewer blacks are in the jury pool. Jefferson, who represents much of New Orleans, is black.
Prosecutors contend that northern Virginia is an appropriate venue because that is where Jefferson was caught on videotape accepting bribes, and because the alleged victim in the bribery scheme ran a business based in the area.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III scheduled an evidentiary hearing for next month on Jefferson's request to suppress evidence seized and statements he made to investigators in August 2005 when the FBI raided his New Orleans home.
The defense contends that agents went beyond the scope of the search warrant by taking photographs of Jefferson's personal records. They also contend that the manner in which he was questioned amounted to detaining Jefferson against his will.
Prosecutors have said Jefferson volunteered to answer questions during a 2 1/2-hour session. At one point, prosecutors say agents showed Jefferson a videotape in which he was caught accepting a $100,000 bribe. At that point, Jefferson "sunk back onto the couch and, with total dejection, remarked, 'What a waste,"' according to court papers.
All but $10,000 of the $100,000 bribe was found a few days later, stuffed in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington home.
Ellis granted the defense one partial victory, agreeing to review the transcripts of the grand jury investigation to see if prosecutors improperly presented constitutionally protected evidence to the grand jury.
Jefferson has argued that the separation of powers under the Constitution offers him broad protection from an executive-branch investigation. The defense requested to conduct its own review of the normally secret grand jury transcripts. Instead, Ellis said he would conduct a review to see if the investigation improperly tread into Jefferson's official congressional duties.
In a separate case, Jefferson has challenged the seizure of documents from his congressional offices. That issue is still winding its way through the appeals process.
Ellis held a closed hearing Friday on an undisclosed topic, then later opened the hearing to issue his rulings on the request for change of venue and other defense motions.
Jefferson, a nine-term congressman, allegedly received more than $500,000 in bribes and demanded millions more between 2000 and 2005. Prosecutors say he solicited bribes for himself and his family from 11 different companies while using his office to broker business deals in Africa.
As co-chairman of the congressional Africa Investment and Trade Caucus, prosecutors say Jefferson was particularly well-positioned to use his influence to solicit bribes.
Jefferson's lawyer declined comment Friday.