NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal jury convicted New Orleans political operative Mose Jefferson of bribery and obstruction of justice Friday, less than a month after his brother, a former Louisiana congressman, was found guilty of unrelated corruption charges.
Mose Jefferson, 66, was charged with paying $140,000 in kickbacks to former New Orleans school board president Ellenese Brooks-Simms for her support in awarding school contracts to a computer-based teaching system he sold.
The jury convicted him of two counts of bribery and two counts of obstruction of justice, but acquitted him of one count each of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The bribery charge that he was acquitted of concerns a $40,000 payment he made to Brooks-Simms in January 2005 after she lost a school board re-election bid.
Each of the two bribery convictions carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Each conviction for obstruction of justice is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Neither defense attorney Michael Fawer nor First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann would speculate on or estimate what sentencing guidelines would suggest.
U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon set sentencing for Dec. 9. Jefferson will remain free on bond until then.
Jefferson claimed the payments to Brooks-Simms were a gift for an old friend deep in debt. Prosecutors said he bought Brooks-Simms' votes and made more than $900,000 in commissions with her help.
Flanked by several family members as he walked out of court, Jefferson told reporters after the verdict, "It's just a little bump in the road."
But, he added, that he thought it was "pretty hard for us to get a fair shot."
"I still maintain that I'm not guilty," he said. "I've never bribed a person in my life."
When asked to comment on Jefferson's comment about getting a fair trial, Mann said, "That's a ridiculous assertion on his part."
She described the verdicts as a "resounding victory for the people of New Orleans."
"We think they did their job well," she said of jurors.
Fawer said he expected to appeal the convictions and described the verdicts as a "mixed bag."
"On balance I don't think the government can view it as a victory in any sense," he said.
Jefferson's brother, former Rep. William Jefferson, was convicted Aug. 5 by a federal jury in Virginia of unrelated charges that included bribery, racketeering and money laundering.
Unlike his brother, Mose Jefferson testified during his trial, denying he bought Brooks-Simms' votes or paid her to lobby other board members to support the purchase of "I CAN Learn" software program.
Jefferson said he helped Brooks-Simms concoct a cover story for his payments to her because he "didn't want it to look bad for her." His lawyer, Michael Fawer, said his client's actions may have been "morally reprehensible" but weren't criminal.
But prosecutors said two taped conversations between Jefferson and Brooks-Simms, secretly recorded by the FBI, proved Jefferson knew he was covering up a crime.
Brooks-Simms, who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and is awaiting sentencing, cooperated with the government and testified against Jefferson.
Brooks-Simms said they became friends in 1999, but Jefferson said they had a romantic relationship in the 1980s while she was married to her husband, Melvin, who died this year. Brooks-Simms wasn't asked about the alleged affair during her earlier testimony, but her lawyer denied the allegation.
Prosecutors said Brooks-Simms voted to award contracts for "I CAN Learn" and also cast a tie-breaking vote to hire former Orleans Parish schools superintendent Anthony Amato, a supporter of the program who expanded its use in the city's public schools.
Fawer said the program had broad support among other board members and school officials, so Jefferson didn't need to buy Brooks-Simms' votes.
Mose Jefferson also was accused of enlisting his longtime girlfriend, former state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt, to secure state funding for other schools to purchase "I CAN Learn."
Gill Pratt isn't charged with wrongdoing in the bribery case, but she and Mose Jefferson — along with his sister, New Orleans tax assessor Betty Jefferson, and one of his nieces — are awaiting a trial on separate racketeering conspiracy charges.
William Jefferson, 62, represented parts of New Orleans for almost 20 years. His two-month trial in Virginia included evidence of $90,000 in cash from an FBI sting found stashed in the freezer of his home.