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Wednesday, June 4, 2008 - Page updated at 05:18 PM

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La. lawmaker's siblings, niece charged with fraud

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS —

A brother, sister and niece of indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson were charged Wednesday with pocketing more than $600,000 in state and federal grant money intended for charitable and educational projects.

A federal grand jury indicted New Orleans tax assessor Betty Jefferson, her brother, Mose Jefferson, and her daughter, Angela Coleman, on charges that include federal program fraud, identity theft and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the family members used several nonprofit and for-profit companies to obtain grants designed to help pregnant teens, at-risk youths and others in need of assistance. They allegedly deposited some of the grant money into personal checking accounts and used it for personal expenses.

"It's fair to say that the allegations in the indictment are very instructive on how such nonprofits can be exploited," Letten said.

A message seeking comment was left with an attorney who has represented Mose Jefferson; it was not immediately clear who was representing Betty Jefferson and Coleman.

With Wednesday's 31-count indictment, four members of the politically prominent Jefferson family now face federal criminal charges.

Rep. Jefferson, 61, a nine-term Louisiana Democrat, was indicted last year on bribery charges. He is awaiting a trial in Virginia and has denied wrongdoing. The congressman wasn't named in Wednesday's indictment, and faces a re-election campaign this fall.

Mose Jefferson, 66, pleaded not guilty in April to separate charges that he paid bribes to a former New Orleans school board president.

Wednesday's indictment also charges Betty Jefferson, 70, with four counts of tax evasion. She faces up to 279 years in prison. The grand jury also charged Mose Jefferson with making false statements to federal investigators. He faces up to 250 years in prison, while Coleman faces a maximum of 257 years behind bars.

The three defendants charged Wednesday are scheduled to make their initial court appearance on June 20.

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