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The Jefferson Bombshell 

Last week's FBI raids on Congressman Bill Jefferson's homes in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., his automobile, and his campaign treasurer's office set off the biggest investigative bombshell in Louisiana since Edwin Edwards' home was raided by the feds in 1997.

As was true in the Edwards case, there was a lot more speculation than information about what prompted the raids against Jefferson -- and where the investigation is headed -- in the immediate aftermath. At this point, it might be easier to discuss what the investigation is not about.

It seems clear already that the raids were not connected to the ongoing investigation into Morial-era contracts at City Hall. Jefferson and former Mayor Marc Morial have never been in each other's circle of trust. The congressman therefore was not likely to be sharing in any patronage deals that arose during Morial's tenure at City Hall. Lucky him.

Nor is it likely that the raids came about as a result of the recent federal conviction of Jefferson Parish Judge Alan Green -- who is the Democratic congressman's brother-in-law. More specifically, I doubt that Green is talking to the feds about Jefferson. Even if he were, it's unlikely that the federal government could have moved that quickly. One caveat: an FBI wiretap did pick up a conversation between Jefferson and Green in which the congressman asked the judge to help raise money for Jefferson's daughter's campaign for the state House of Representatives in 2002. Jefferson, who is an attorney, surely knew that Louisiana law bars judges from asking anyone for campaign contributions -- even for their own campaigns. This tidbit may be significant in light of the raid on Jefferson's campaign treasurer's office. Only time will tell.

There also appears to be no visible link between last week's raid and the federal investigation into corruption in the Orleans Parish public school system -- although Jefferson has meddled in school board politics (and most other local politics as well) for years.

The greater likelihood is that the agents showed up at Chez Jeff last Wednesday afternoon as part of a separate investigation focusing on Jefferson himself. It's also apparent that this investigation is being directed out of Washington, and that it has been in the works for months, if not longer. The Washington Post reported that the feds are looking into whether Jefferson used his influence in Congress to enhance personal business dealings. The congressman is known to be a staunch free-trader (he voted for CAFTA two weeks ago), and he has widespread connections in the international business community. (A note of irony here, if the Post report is correct: Jefferson was scheduled to co-lead a local delegation to Brazil with Mayor Ray Nagin this week. The purpose of the trip is to drum up international business.)

There is additional speculation that investigators are looking into how Jefferson spent some of his campaign money during his race for governor in 1999, and possibly during other elections, which could explain the FBI's visit to his campaign treasurer's office. It's interesting to note that that visit occurred hours before the raid on Jefferson's home and automobiles. As of press time, it was not known if one raid led to the others.

One thing that must be said is that Jefferson has not been charged with any wrongdoing whatsoever. His family members and attorney say they have no idea what the investigation is about. Moreover, if he ultimately is charged, he is entitled to the same presumption of innocence that any of us would want for ourselves.

That said, the FBI doesn't show up at congressmen's homes with hammers and crowbars on a whim. They may or may not have hard evidence of criminal activity, but they obviously think that something is rotten in the estate of Jefferson.

Stay tuned.

click to enlarge The likelihood is that FBI agents showed up at Chez Jeff - last Wednesday as part of a separate investigation - focusing on U.S. Rep. William Jefferson himself. It's also - apparent that this investigation is being directed out of - Washington.
  • The likelihood is that FBI agents showed up at Chez Jeff last Wednesday as part of a separate investigation focusing on U.S. Rep. William Jefferson himself. It's also apparent that this investigation is being directed out of Washington.
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