Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hello Frank, So Long Jane

Here's the latest on the 10-Q from a respected source of mine, a geologist who knows what's up:

I just called the company and was told by a very pleasant receptionist at the Houston office (she was hired 2 days ago), that she has been told that the filing is to be out tomorrow. Also, I was told that Jane was let go because of numerous complaints about her telephone communications demeanor. I was told that Frank and Walter would be there all day working...

Meanwhile, the Washington Post Website headlines the opening of a House Ethics Committee hearingon three Congressmen including Rep. William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat whose bribery charges led to an indictment last week.

Investigative reporters looking into that case have contacted ERHC On The Move in recent months for information about the man who may be America's largest shareholder of ERHC Energy, oilman Phil Nugent of Houston. His accountant, Norma Reynolds, is moderator of the ERHC Energy board on Investor's Hub.

Update, 3:15pm ET, 5/19/06: Here is a story by one of those investigative reports that was just published today:

House probe of Jefferson unlikely to move swiftly...
Ethics committee usually waits for legal process to play out first

Friday, May 19, 2006
By Bruce Alpert
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON -- If precedent prevails, the House ethics committee investigations into bribery allegations announced this week against Reps. William Jefferson and Bob Ney will be delayed until the federal criminal probes of the two congressmen are completed.

But experts on congressional ethics also say that even if Jefferson, an eight-term New Orleans Democrat, and Ney, a six-term Ohio Republican, are ultimately cleared of criminal wrongdoing, they still could face serious sanctions from the House.

"There is a contrast between behavior that is unethical and behavior that is illegal," said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and an expert on Congress.

The ethics committee, formally known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, broke a 16-month partisan impasse Wednesday night by announcing four actions, including the separate probes of Jefferson and Ney. The panel gave no timeline for the investigations, and experts on congressional ethics procedures don't expect quick action.

"I wouldn't anticipate a lot of activity immediately because the committee generally awaits the outcome of a federal criminal case before taking any action," said Stan Brand, chief counsel to the House of Representatives from 1976 to 1983.

Susan Tolchin, a public policy professor and co-author of the book "Glass Houses: Congressional Ethics and the Politics of Venom," agreed, although she said the pressure on Congress to address ethics complaints is now so intense that the panel might at least begin preliminary inquiries before the Justice Department probes run their course.

But it is extremely unlikely that the panel would make any formal recommendations until the legal process plays out, she said.

Jefferson vows innocence

Jefferson, who has proclaimed his innocence and said he would not resign his seat in Congress or plead guilty to a crime he says he didn't commit, is continuing his congressional activities despite the criminal probe and ethics committee review. On Thursday he criticized a Republican budget and spoke on the House floor about the federal government's plans to cut off temporary housing assistance to hurricane evacuees on May 31.

In their announcement Wednesday, ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and the panel's top Democrat, Howard Berman of California, said a four-member investigative subcommittee will determine whether Jefferson violated the House's Code of Official Conduct or any law or regulation. They said the investigation would concentrate on whether Jefferson or his relatives received cash, stock shares, a share of future profits, employment or travel benefits to advance a telecommunications deal in Africa.

Hastings and Berman said the committee probe will concentrate on Jefferson's relationship with Brett Pfeffer, a former aide to the congressman, and Vernon Jackson, CEO of iGate Inc., both of whom have pleaded guilty to bribery in what the government says was a scheme to get Jefferson's help in landing telecommunications contracts for iGate. The ethics committee leaders said the panel also would examine Jefferson's connections to Lori Mody, a Virginia multimillionaire who invested in iGate's African projects but later soured on the deal and agreed to record conversations with the congressman, according to court documents.

Jefferson has not been charged with a crime and has said he never asked for anything to perform his official congressional duties. It appears he is building a possible defense that the business ventures were private matters outside his official duties as a congressman. That, however, could raise issues related to House rules prohibiting members of Congress from receiving outside income or gifts.

Tolchin said that even if Jefferson's argument prevails in court, the ethics committee still could find his behavior violated the House's conduct code and recommend some kind of reprimand.

Range of penalties

The panel can recommend anything from a verbal reprimand for unethical conduct to fines or expulsion. In 1997, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was hit with a $300,000 fine, and after Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, was convicted of bribery and racketeering in 2002, the ethics panel recommended his expulsion and the full House concurred.

Groups that had been asking the ethics committee to investigate Jefferson and Ney, the Ohio congressman accused of doing favors for convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for travel and other gifts, had mixed reactions to Wednesday's announcement.

"It seems they awakened from their 16-month sleep to find that some of their members are being investigated and that it's about time for them to do a little bit of this themselves," said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

But Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it is likely the panel will do nothing, following the rationale that it would be unwise to interfere with a federal criminal probe. "I suspect it will amount to nothing, but at least after two years of doing nothing, they can announce that they are finally doing something," Sloan said.

To oversee the investigation, Hastings and Berman named Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa., and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio. Hart, now in her third term, sponsored the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which declares that any federal crime of violence against a pregnant woman may be charged as two separate crimes. Tubbs Jones, now in her fourth term, serves with Jefferson on the Congressional Black Caucus and the House Ways and Means Committee.

Bruce Alpert can be reached at or (202) 383-7861.

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