Former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin (R) is the mystery lawmaker referenced in last week’s 16-count indictment against Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).
As the then-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Tauzin penned a letter on Oct. 22, 2002 — now in prosecutors’ possession — praising iGate, the company on whose behalf Jefferson was allegedly using his Congressional office to advocate for in West Africa.
Tauzin, a former Democrat who represented the southern Louisiana 3rd district adjacent to Jefferson’s 2nd district, is now the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
“He talked to the FBI on one occasion,” confirmed Ken Johnson, PhRMA’s spokesman who also handled media relations for the Energy and Commerce Committee when the events took place. “He’s not a target of the investigation. We believe we answered all the questions to their satisfaction.”
“From our perspective, at the time this was pretty much a non-event.”
The Justice Department had no comment.
According to the June 4 indictment of Jefferson, around June 2002, Jefferson introduced iGate President Vernon Jackson to a “prominent member” of the Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications, trade and consumer protection. Tauzin once was chairman of that subcommittee.
Then, the indictment says, Jefferson “caused” the lawmaker “to send to iGate [a letter] on official Congressional letterhead and under that Member’s signature praising iGate’s technology.”
Johnson confirmed Monday that Tauzin was the influential lawmaker referred to in the indictment. But he said the meeting with Jackson raised no “red flags” and that Tauzin was unaware of any financial dealings Jefferson had with Jackson or iGate.
He described the tone of the Tauzin letter as “measured” and denied that the Louisiana lawmaker had done anything further to help iGate secure business.
“We didn’t contact any companies. We didn’t ask for any favors,” Johnson said.
Prosecutors have charged Jefferson with using his Congressional office and clout to solicit nearly a half-million dollars from Jackson to help him win lucrative business contracts for iGate in Nigeria and Ghana. Jefferson has maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court Friday.
Jackson started iGate as a way to deliver high-speed Internet access over cheap copper phone wires. Jefferson and Jackson allegedly tried to market the innovative technology to the Army and some African countries with little access to more expensive fiber-optic lines.
Johnson said Tauzin “always had a great interest” in “exploring new technologies,” especially ones that could have helped his rural Louisiana district.
Johnson described a single 2002 meeting between Jefferson, Tauzin and Jackson as “staff driven.” The meeting was followed by a subsequent visit by Energy and Commerce counsel Howard Waltzman to iGate’s Washington, D.C., office, and later to view the technology at work at an Army facility in Fort Stewart, Ga.
“Howard was impressed by the transmission speeds that your technology achieved, and especially that it was actually working in the field under difficult conditions,” Tauzin wrote in the letter.
“If iGate’s technology can be deployed successfully on a mass-market basis, its utilization presents an opportunity to deliver affordable broadband services to many communities that are not reached by existing technologies.”
“I hope that iGate continues to have success with its technology,” the letter ends.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.