William Jefferson, the former nine-term congressman from Louisiana, was found guilty of 11 of 16 corruption charges on Wednesday by a federal jury, including conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He was also found guilty of soliciting and taking bribes, depriving citizens of honest services, money laundering and racketeering, and conspiracy to solicit bribes. He was acquitted of a substantive charge of violating the FCPA.
A chart showing the charges and the verdict can be downloaded from the Times Picayune here.
Jefferson’s case started in 2005 when the FBI raided his congressional office. He then became the first elected U.S. official to be charged under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. A 16-count indictment alleged among other things that he conspired to bribe the then Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar, and later paid or promised to pay him bribes to steer telecommunications contracts to companies controlled by Jefferson’s family.
The jury convicted Jefferson on Count 1 of the indictment that charged him with conspiracy to solicit bribes, deprive citizens of honest services, and violate the FCPA. The Times Picayune reported that the law only required the jury to find Jefferson guilty on two out of three of those charges — conspiring to solicit bribes, deprive honest services, or violate the FCPA. The jury’s verdict form did not require it to specify which conspiracy charges the panel agreed on. “It may or may not have included conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” the paper said. Nevertheless, a guilty verdict will be recorded for the FCPA conspiracy charge under Count 1 of the indictment.
The jury acquitted Jefferson on Count 11 of the indictment — the substantive FCPA charge.
Jefferson’s case is best known for the FBI’s discovery in August 2005 of $90,000 cash in the freezer of his Washington home. The money was given to Jefferson by Lori Mody, the government’s cooperating witness who didn’t testify at his trial. Prosecutors said Jefferson planned to use the cash to bribe Abubakar; Jefferson’s lawyers said the cash in the freezer proved the ex-lawmaker didn’t use the money as a bribe.
The jury deliberated five days before reaching a decision. Jefferson is now free pending his October 30 sentencing. He faces a maximum penalty of 150 years in prison. The jury will reconvene Thursday to decide whether he will also face forfeiture of up to $456,000 plus stock certificates.
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’s lawyers are planning to appeal.
Read all our posts about William Jefferson here.