NEW ORLEANS -- The online advertisement describes the two-story vacation rental on South Broad Street as a historic home, surrounded by a peaceful garden utopia. The photos feature antique furniture and elaborate African art.
But the ad makes no mention that the woman who owned it all was found bludgeoned to death last May on her bedroom floor. Nor does it note that her husband, the man who posted the ad hocking the unlicensed bed and breakfast for $850-a-night, remains a “person of interest” in her unsolved murder.
Archie Jefferson, a member of the once-mighty Jefferson political clan, published the ad on the website airbnb.com sometime in the last month, after signing a rent-to-own agreement with the bank that foreclosed on his wife’s house after she died.
“Hey, I’m Archie!” he wrote. “Utopia has been my home for 12 years. It is a quiet, peaceful and lovely setting.”
On May 11, 2012, Archie Jefferson’s fourth wife, Sandra Peters Jefferson, was beaten so ruthlessly in one of the home’s bedrooms that police first believed she’d been shot in the head.
Detectives searched two of his cars, according to court documents.
They crawled under the house because they believed he might have stashed bloody clothes or the murder weapon there. They interrogated him until he stopped cooperating.
Still, no one has been charged.
Sandra Jefferson’s best friend said she wept when she first saw the advertisement Tuesday night. She clicked through the pictures: couch, desk, artwork, rugs — even the grapefruit trees. It had all belonged to Sandra, arranged the same as the day she died.
“I was appalled at the arrogance. I was angry, I started to cry,” said Lisa Bell Burns. “Because everybody keeps saying it’ll come back around, he’ll get his, it’ll work itself out. But I don’t know anymore.”
In the advertisement, Archie Jefferson describes himself as a lawyer and a businessman, a former chef, a lover of travel and the theater. He enjoys people, he says in a video accompanying the ad, which is why he believes he will make a fine host.
He does not disclose that he has no license to operate a bed and breakfast, according to city records. He also doesn’t say that he is a convicted felon, an outlier in the city’s most infamous political crime family, or that the Louisiana Supreme Court cited “indisputable evidence of a fundamental lack of moral character and fitness” when he was permanently disbarred in 2004.
Even Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt, a longtime family associate who was convicted of racketeering, recently described Archie Jefferson as a “scam artist.”
Sandra Jefferson’s son, Terrence Moses, who was named independent administrator of her estate and who says he’s been working to have her belongings removed from the house at 3427 S. Broad St, was shocked by the advertisement.
“I just can’t believe that a man who says he’s innocent, has a wife that was murdered inside the house, (is) trying to make money off of the same house,” said Moses.
But Jefferson, the younger brother of disgraced congressman William Jefferson, is doing just that. He is asking $850 a night to stay in the five-bedroom pink house that can accommodate eight people, with four-and-a-half bathrooms, a huge lot and a gym. A week will cost travelers $5,000 and a month goes for $13,500.
He also requires a $5,000 security deposit, an uncommon prerequisite for a bed and breakfast, said Bonnie Rabe, president of the Professional Innkeepers Association of New Orleans, a trade organization for bed and breakfasts.
Illegal bed and breakfasts are a common aggravation for the 300 licensed inns and hotels in the city.
“Unfortunately bed and breakfasts get a bad name because we get associated with all these fly-by-night properties scamming people,” Rabe said. “And that’s a huge problem because we are professional. We are following the rules, we are inspected, we pay taxes.”
In his advertisement, Archie Jefferson wrote that the house “is the perfect setting for weddings.”
Rabe said that licensed bed and breakfasts are forbidden from hosting weddings and other functions.
Jefferson is calling his bed and breakfast “The Garden House in New Orleans.”
“I am also a former chef so I do and enjoy all of the cooking for my guests when staying as a BNB or health retreat,” he wrote.
He includes a video of himself, sitting in an office in a yellow polo shirt, talking about his love for golf and his grandchildren while the pop song “Blurred Lines” plays in the background.
He says that he lives on-site.
Jefferson has an outstanding charge of contractor fraud in Jefferson Parish, and on court documents there he lists an address a few blocks away on Eve Street. No one answered the door there Wednesday. Jefferson also did not return messages seeking comment for this story.
The lights were on inside the South Broad Street house, but no one came to the door Wednesday afternoon. Two 2-by-4s were nailed across the inside of the glass front door, and bags of sticks and leaves sat piled on the curb, as if someone had recently cleared out the lawn.
The outside lights were on. Entergy declined to say who’s been paying the bill, citing privacy laws.
Until her death, the house in Broadmoor had been solely in Sandra Jefferson’s name.
Then, after she was killed, an Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge named Moses the administrator of her estate, according to court records.
But the house was so tangled in debt that First NBC Bank seized it in December, according to civil court records and reports from the sheriff’s sale. The home’s paper trail then takes a curious course: the bank bought it at a sheriff’s sale on March 7, the typical outcome for foreclosures. But the bank never paid the sheriff’s commission, which is 3 percent of the sale price, plus court costs. In this case, the bank owed $7,420.
Because that was never paid, the deed transfer was never recorded with the city. The Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office still lists it in Sandra Jefferson’s name. She also remains the registered owner with the Orleans Parish register of conveyances and the city’s Bureau of Treasury. Yet, the bank, 30 days ago, signed a “bond for deed” agreement with Archie Jefferson.
It is essentially a lease-to-own arrangement: the tenant pays rent every month, but the title isn’t transferred until the debt is paid in full.
The bank’s attorney, Gregory St. Angelo, said First NBC figured they’d have a hard time selling the house. Jefferson approached them and offered to do the repairs and upkeep and, most importantly, buy an unsellable house.
St. Angelo described it as “making the best of a bad situation.” But under the arrangement, Jefferson would never be able to license the bed and breakfast. Licensing in the city requires the property owner claim a homestead exemption, which is impossible with a lease-to-own.
Neighbors have seen both Archie Jefferson and contractors doing work at the home.
One neighbor asked a lawn-mowing crew who they worked for, and they told her they’d been sent by the bank. But she soon saw Archie Jefferson on the back lawn with a woman, planting flowers and updating the landscaping. She saw him again with a man, pointing out things that needed to be repaired.
For months, the gutter has been dangling from the roof of the tidy pink house with green trim.
“I can’t speak to how anyone grieves or mourns or how they adjust to a loss, but the common perception would be that it’s very distasteful and it will give people room for pause,” said Tessa Jackson, a neighbor. “I’ve just been uncomfortable with the whole situation, the fact that nobody has been brought to justice, that this is still an unsolved case, that the police department has made significant efforts to resolve other cases and this one is still pending. I just feel like she deserves more and her family deserves more.”
New Orleans police declined to provide an update on the status of the investigation Thursday. They said earlier this summer that the case remained open and Archie Jefferson remained a “person of interest.”
The pictures Jefferson posted on airbnb.com show a collection of African art pieces. Sandra Jefferson’s friends and family say she spent years acquiring them.
The furniture belonged to her, they said. But some photos show the house in minor disarray, with mop buckets, unmade beds and tables cluttered with papers and bags.
Over the years, Jefferson has incorporated more than 40 businesses, ranging from dialysis clinics to a coffee shop and fitness center. Nearly all of them have been revoked by the Louisiana Secretary of State.
For years, he skirted around the edges of political power. But many of the members of his once-potent family are now either dead or in prison for various corruption schemes.
One brother, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, is serving federal prison time for a scandal that involved $90,000 famously found hidden in his freezer. His other brother, political operative Mose Jefferson, died in federal prison. His sister, former 4th District Tax Assessor Betty Jefferson, and his brother’s longtime girlfriend, Gill Pratt, were convicted of conspiring together to loot bogus Central City charities of more than $1 million.
Before the family fell from grace, Archie Jefferson was the black sheep, so much so that Gill Pratt grew offended this summer when the New Orleans Advocate referred to her as being “in his circle.”
She has always disliked him, she insisted, and claimed he was a con man.
His list of misdeeds spans decades: lying on a credit-card application, practicing law without a license, failing to pay his taxes for years at a time, using drugs, writing bad checks, illegally razing a historic home and forging judges’ signatures to let inmates out of jail.
Both the federal and state governments had filed liens on the South Broad Street home, claiming Jefferson owed them tens of thousands for years worth of unpaid income taxes.
But his prior transgressions paled in comparison to the suspicion that surrounded him after his wife was found dying on her bedroom floor.
Within months of her death, her family and friends would be shocked by his hubris.
He refused to cooperate with police. He picked a fight at her funeral as she was being buried.
He went to the Jefferson Parish courthouse and asked that his name be put on the birth certificate of a child he fathered with his mistress, born five months before his wife died.
Then he filed a lien on his dead wife’s house. He said he had invested $150,000 in construction work and improvements over the decade he lived there. He wanted to be paid back.
Moses said he’s surprised that Archie Jefferson can still shock him.
“He’s outdone himself,” Moses said about the bed and breakfast. “This is amazing.”
He said he typed a message to Jefferson through the rental website.
“I can’t believe a man would want to make money off a house where his wife was murdered,” he said he wrote. “And I pray to God that he have mercy on you and your family.”
The worst part of it, Moses said, was that it was his dead mother’s idea.
She had always dreamed of running a bed a breakfast.
UPDATE: Airbnb.com decided to take down Jefferson's online advertisement Friday after being "made aware of the case," according to company spokesman Jakob Kerr.