Saturday, June 7, 2008

Reassessing Betty Jefferson

Posted By on Sat, Jun 7, 2008 at 8:52 PM

By: Allen Johnson?

?The sweeping federal indictment of Assessor Betty Jefferson, 70, her brother, Mose Jefferson, 66, and her daughter, Angela Coleman, 53, accuses the trio of stealing public housing and education funds — starting before she was first elected to the office more than a decade ago.

The 31-count indictment charges the three with funneling more than $680,000 in federal housing and education monies directed to charitable nonprofits under their control, beginning prior to Jan. 1, 1998. Betty Jefferson won the Feb. 7, 1998, election for assessor in the Fourth Municipal District (Wards 10 and 11, including the Irish Channel). She then won consecutive four-year terms with the help of her family, including U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson, who faces separate felony charges in Virginia. After Hurricane Katrina, she defeated Chase Jones in the May 2006 runoff by a margin of 56-44 percent. The assessor now faces spending the rest of her life in prison for, among other alleged crimes, federal income tax invasion from 2001 to 2004.

Campaign Cupboard Bare

The Jefferson family is spending a lot of time in court these days. Next week, Assessor Betty Jefferson, her brother Mose Jefferson and her daughter Angela Coleman are scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Louis Moore at 9 a.m. Friday (June 20) in connection with their public corruption indictment last week by a federal grand jury. It was unclear at press time whether Betty Jefferson can use any of her campaign funds to defend herself against the federal charges. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten demurred when asked if she had abused her office for personal gain. However, it is clear that her campaign “cupboard” is almost bare. Jefferson reported $2,356 in funds at the beginning of 2008 after little activity last year — other than a $500 contribution to the failed Senate campaign of her niece, former state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock. Bullock has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Betty Jefferson’s campaign reports were filed by Angela Coleman, who served as her mother’s campaign treasurer. Six additional but unnamed Jefferson family members were mentioned in connection with various schemes in the federal indictment. Letten says those names may become public if the case goes to trial.

Summer Reading for Feds

To build their epic corruption case against Orleans Parish Tax Assessor Betty Jefferson, federal prosecutors say they combed through reports filed by charitable nonprofit organizations with the Legislative Auditor’s Office. In fact, a state audit of Care Unlimited, the nonprofit allegedly controlled and “defrauded” by the Jeffersons, preceded the government’s 31-count indictment. “We always read them with great relish, and they are always a big help to us,” U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said of the Legislative Auditor’s reports, which are posted online at www.lla.state.la.us.

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