In a case reportedly involving the brother of Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., who was indicted recently on federal bribery charges, a former president of the New Orleans Public Schools board has admitted accepting $140,000 in bribes to help JRL Enterprises Inc., a producer of educational software, obtain a lucrative New Orleans school contract.
The former board official, Ellenese Brooks-Simms, 67, pleaded guilty in a U.S. District Court in New Orleans to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery. Her lawyer told reporters outside the courthouse on June 20 that Brooks-Simms “fully acknowledges and regrets being involved in this.” The lawyer, Ralph Capitelli, declined to discuss details.
JRL, which was founded in New Orleans and moved to Jackson, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, was not accused of wrongdoing in the case.
The charges against Brooks-Simms did not identify a business consultant who was said to have paid her to win school board contracts for the company. JRL’s “I CAN Learn” software has been involved in controversy in the past over its efficacy and the circumstances surrounding its contracts with the school district of Fort Worth, Texas (see Officials freeze ‘I CAN Learn’: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5679).
In the New Orleans case, JRL’s founder, John Lee, reportedly has acknowledged that he hired Rep. Jefferson’s brother, Mose Jefferson, to “facilitate introductions to the decision makers” in Orleans Parish. But according to the city’s newspaper, the Times-Picayune, Lee said he never authorized bribes.
Brooks-Simms was accused of accepting bribes on three occasions for “promoting and approving” school board contracts that “illegally benefited” a person known to federal prosecutors but not named in court papers. A news release from U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the person in question received more than $900,000 in commissions for software contracts with the New Orleans school board.
Brooks-Simms served on the Orleans Parish School Board from 2000 to 2004. She is the latest person to plead guilty in a wide-ranging probe that began in 2003 and has resulted so far in 23 guilty pleas, Letten said. A string of plea deals has revealed kickback schemes involving construction and insurance activities, as well as school payroll thefts.
In the past, Brooks-Simms joined other school officials in inviting the FBI to set up shop in school district headquarters, and she boasted repeatedly of efforts to crack down on corruption.
According to the Times-Picayune, a summary of the case filed against Brooks-Simms said that the person who provided the bribes–a local businessman unnamed by prosecutors but believed to be Mose Jefferson–deposited sales commissions from JRL transactions involving the New Orleans school district into a corporate bank account. The businessman allegedly then shifted funds, which he would later use for bribes, to another account he controlled. Several checks were then transferred to Brooks-Simms, the newspaper said.
The bribery charges against Rep. Jefferson, filed in Virginia, are part of an apparently unrelated case.
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