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Big Day For The FCPA

History will be made with today’s opening gavel in William Jefferson’s federal trial. It will mark the first time a former member of congress has been prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the only time the country has seen two FCPA trials staged simultaneously — Jefferson’s in Alexandria, Virginia and Frederic Bourke’s in New York City.

Jefferson, 62, faces up to 20 years in prison. He’s accused of violating the FCPA by arranging bribes to African officials to win contracts for his family’s companies, and with soliciting and accepting bribes, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. He lost an election last year for a 10th term in the House of Representatives from a district that includes New Orleans.

Frederic Bourke’s trial started last week. He’s accused of investing in a deal in Azerbaijan that he knew involved paying bribes to officials there. He faces up to 30 years in jail for violating the FCPA, money laundering and lying to federal investigators.

Jefferson’s case caused a stir when it started in 2005. The FBI’s raid on his congressional office was the first one ever. The Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said the raid was constitutional but the way the FBI reviewed Jefferson’s documents wasn’t. The tainted evidence can’t be used at his trial. It was also the first time U.S. law enforcement agencies had raided the U.S. residence of an elected foreign official — a home built in Maryland by Nigeria’s then vice president, Atiku Abubakar, for his wife Jennifer Douglas.

For Jefferson and his family, these are terrible times. His brother Mose Jefferson, his sister Betty Jefferson, and his niece Angela Coleman, have all pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges in Louisiana, where they helped run the family’s political machine. On top of that, Jefferson’s other sister, Brenda Jefferson Foster, has already pleaded guilty in the Louisiana case and will testify against her relatives. A judge has told the other indicted family members not to contact her. Their trial is scheduled to start in August.

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