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Jefferson On Trial, Soon

Former Congressman William J. Jefferson’s trial for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other federal laws will start on June 9 in Alexandria, Virginia. Judge Tim Ellis this week granted Jefferson a one-week delay. He’s charged in a 16-count indictment with FCPA violations, soliciting and accepting bribes, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 235 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Jefferson’s case is best known for allegations that he hid $90,000 in the freezer at his Washington home. The indictment said it was part of $100,000 provided in August 2005 by the government’s cooperating witness. It was supposed to be used to bribe a Nigerian official to steer telephone service-related business to Jefferson’s family members. “The cash was separated into $10,000 increments, wrapped in aluminum foil, and concealed inside various frozen food containers,” according to prosecutors.

Jefferson’s lawyers have said the money “was transmitted to Mr. Jefferson by the government’s cooperating witness during the course of the FBI’s sting operation so that he would pass it to a foreign government official,” the then vice president of Nigeria. “But Mr. Jefferson did not do that. Instead, the marked funds were recovered in his home.”

His alleged co-conspirators were Vernon L. Jackson, a Louisville, Ky., businessman, and Brett M. Pfeffer, a former Jefferson congressional staff member. Jackson was sentenced to 87 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and paying bribes to a public official. Pfeffer was sentenced to 96 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the solicitation of bribes by a member of Congress.

Jefferson had argued last year that except for the two FCPA charges, the grand jury’s 16-count indictment violated his rights by relying on evidence protected by the absolute privilege in the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause (Article I, Section 6, Clause 1). In November, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his arguments. Last month, the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, clearing the way for the trial.

Jefferson, 62, lost an election last year for a 10th term in Congress. His district included New Orleans. Before being indicted, he had compiled an outstanding record of public service. He was the first African-American elected to Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction. He graduated from Southern University A&M College and Harvard Law School, and he also holds an LLM in tax from Georgetown.

He was raised in northeast Louisiana before he moved to New Orleans and rose to power. A great article by Gordon Russell in The Times-Picayune (one of our favorite papers) said this about his childhood:

Life in the Delta during the 1940s wasn’t easy: Though the family owned a small farm, the Jefferson children had to pick cotton and the large family was crammed into a five-room house.

In town, racial oppression was rigid, and may have launched [Jefferson’s older brother’s] flight to Chicago. William Jefferson’s recent book, “Dying Is the Easy Part” — which is billed as fiction but reads like an autobiography — features a chapter that centers on an older brother of the narrator.

The brother is insulted by a group of racist white men. One throws a pool ball at him but misses, breaking a mirror. Though he is handy with his fists, the brother knows fighting isn’t an option, and he runs home.

Nonetheless, that night, deputies come to his house to arrest him. The sheriff tells his mother: “Your boy can’t be fighting white boys in this parish. If he wants to fight with white boys, then, by God, he’s gotta go up North.”

His mother, defiant, refuses to turn over her son. “He’s gotta go up North to keep somebody from whipping his ass?” she asks rhetorically. “He ain’t going nowhere.”

* * *
From Frederic Bourke’s trial. Here’s the lead from David Glovin’s account of the jaw-dropping testimony on day three: Viktor Kozeny’s security chief told a jury how the Czech expatriate brought ex-Senator George Mitchell into a deal to buy Azerbaijan’s oil company, spent $96,000 on a dinner for six, and befriended powerful American investors. There’s lots more here.

Read all our posts about U.S. v. Kozeny and the prosecution of Frederic Bourke here.

* * * New York-based writer and business strategist Aimee Barnes keeps an eye on China-related developments in her blog. She asked us about corruption and compliance and has now posted the results. Thanks, Aimee.

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