Earmark Drove Jefferson Case

Other Members Deny Role in Earmark

Posted June 17, 2008 at 6:45pm

A federal grant that prosecutors claim was misappropriated by family members of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) apparently originated as a last-minute Congressional earmark in a 2003 appropriations bill. Though it is not certain that Jefferson requested the money, no other Louisiana lawmakers have taken credit for it.

An indictment filed on June 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana alleges that the Congressman’s brother, Mose Jefferson; his sister, Betty Jefferson; and her daughter, Angela Coleman, engaged in a scheme to siphon grant money from charities that they established into their own businesses and bank accounts.

The indictment alleges that “Defendant Betty Jefferson obtained grant funds of approximately $99,350 from the United States Department of Education for the Care Unlimited Bridge Program for the grant period beginning Oct. 1, 2003 and ending September 30, 2004,” but “she and the defendants converted approximately $60,358 in grant funds to their personal use, their companies and family members.”

According to an Education Department spokeswoman, the grant to Care Unlimited was an “earmark grant,” determined by Congress, though several officials said the department does not track which Member requested the earmarks.

The only earmark in that time period that fits this description appears in the conference report for the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill, which Congress passed in February 2003.

The conference report included $815 million for the “Fund for the Improvement of Education” and directed the department to fund hundreds of specific projects, including $100,000 for “Care Unlimited, New Orleans, LA, to provide in-home educational services to high school students who are pregnant or parents.”

Prior to appearing in the conference report for the omnibus bill, the Care Unlimited earmark had never been approved in any legislation passed by the House or Senate. Under new rules implemented last year, Members are not allowed to add such “airdropped” earmarks to conference reports. The new earmark rules also require that all earmarks be publicly disclosed, along with the name of the Member of Congress who requested them. The Care Unlimited earmark was approved before these rules took effect, meaning there is no public record of who requested it.

Rep. Jefferson apparently did not take credit for the earmark at the time. Archived versions of his Web site indicate that he issued no press releases taking credit for earmarks in the 2003 appropriations cycle, and there is no reference to him announcing the grant in any local media at the time. His Congressional office did not respond to a direct question asking whether he sponsored the earmark.

Other Louisiana Members said they did not request the earmark. A spokesman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said her notes indicate that neither she nor then-Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) requested the Care Unlimited project.

A spokesman for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who at the time was a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Vitter did not request the language.

None of these offices had any information on who might have requested the earmark.

Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Appropriations committees said they no longer have records on the 2003 omnibus bill. It would be unusual, but not unprecedented, for a Member of Congress other than Jefferson to have requested an earmark for a small nonprofit in his district.

Rep. Jefferson has not been named in the case against his family members. He is awaiting trial on unrelated corruption charges. Jefferson denies any wrongdoing in that case.

Jefferson announced on Tuesday that he plans to run for re-election.