Jury Convicts Louisiana Woman in Money Laundering Scheme

October 23, 2008

A federal jury has convicted a woman of conspiring with a former Louisiana lawmaker to conceal her illegal operation of an insurance business by laundering money.

Prosecutors contend Gwendolyn Moyo sold bogus construction bonds and laundered roughly $2 million to hide her operation. Moyo argued she was acting as an insurance consultant and did not need a license. She accused the government of pressuring business associates to testify against her.

Her trial began days after state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, D-Marrero, pleaded guilty in the case and resigned his Senate seat.

Jurors deliberated about 10 hours over two days before arriving at an unanimous guilty verdict on all 41 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering against Moyo. They then left the courtroom to consider whether Moyo should forfeit any money received as a result of the illegal business.

Moyo faces 15 to 20 years in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines. She had been sentenced to nine years in federal prison following convictions in 1989 and 1990 on similar fraud charges. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21.

Moyo, who is not an attorney but represented herself in the case, sat quietly and appeared to take notes as the verdicts were read.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier instructed the jury of six men and six women to decide what money – if any – was to be forfeited by Moyo.

“This is money that can be used to compensate the victims of these crimes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Magner told the jury.

The fraud cases, Magner said, added up to more than $1.5 million, while the money laundering counts totaled almost $1.7 million. After further deliberation, the jury ordered those amounts forfeited.

Allowed to address the jurors before the forfeiture deliberations began, Moyo told them, “As I said earlier, whatever your decision was, based on what they told you, that you thought was the truth, I respect that.”

Before she was convicted, Moyo told the jury during closing arguments that she was the victim of a government plot.

She noted that U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, and his sister, Betty Jefferson, a New Orleans tax assessor, have been identified as unindicted co-conspirators in the case.

“The bottom line is that they’re after William and Betty Jefferson. I just got caught in the middle,” she said.

Jefferson allegedly steered Moyo to Shepherd as a way to help Shepherd pay off his campaign debt, according to the indictment against Shepherd. Shepherd had run against Jefferson in 2006, but after finishing third, he endorsed Jefferson in the runoff.

In a post-trial statement issued through an attorney, Moyo said the verdict did not surprise her.

“This is Louisiana, home of the good ole boys,” she said. “It’s another tragedy in seeking, not equal justice, but fair justice when you’re African American in America.”

Shepherd pleaded guilty Oct. 10 to one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering and told the judge that greed had led him to break the law. Shepherd, who resigned his Senate seat, had been charged with helping Moyo launder $141,000 and keeping $65,000 for himself. Conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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