Former nine-term congressman William Jefferson, 63, was sentenced on Friday to 13 years in prison. He was found guilty on 11 of 16 corruption charges, including one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He was acquitted of the single substantive FCPA charge he faced.
Judge T.S. Ellis handed down the sentence in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where Jefferson had stood trial for six weeks in July and August. Prosecutors had asked that Jefferson be jailed for 27 to 33 years; Jefferson’s lawyers wanted a sentence of less than 10 years. Next week the judge will decide when Jefferson must report to prison and whether he can remain free on bail pending his appeal.
Jefferson made FCPA history when he became the first and only U.S. public official to be charged under the law since it was enacted in 1977. But his case will always be remembered for the $90,000 in cash found in his freezer. The money was part of $100,000 given to him by a government informant. Prosecutors said Jefferson planned to use it to bribe Nigeria’s then vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
But as we said before the trial began, “The money so spectacularly found in the freezer — it was in the freezer; it was not in the bank account of a foreign official.” Although the cash seemed to prove Jefferson’s innocence on the substantive FCPA charge, it was also perfect evidence to prove his bad intentions. Honest money doesn’t go into a congressman’s kitchen freezer. So when Jefferson took the cash, and when the FBI found it hidden with the frozen food in veggie-burger boxes, prosecutors had to put the FCPA in the case even if it didn’t belong there (see our post here). Without it, the cash may have become irrelevant and been excluded from the trial.
The Times Picayune said, “Jefferson’s lawyers, who are owed more than $5.7 million by Jefferson, according to documents submitted in his and wife Andrea’s recent bankruptcy filing, have 10 business days to file an appeal.” The paper said an appeal is likely to challenge Judge Ellis’ rulings about the definition of Jefferson’s “official acts” and the judge’s decision not to tell the jury that an FBI agent on the case had a sexual relationship with the government’s informant when she was recording her conversations with Jefferson.
William Jefferson was born into back-woods poverty. He overcame impossibly long odds to graduate from Harvard Law School and become the first African-American elected to Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction. Now he’s disgraced, bankrupt, and heading for jail — where he may live until his 76th birthday. It’s a very sad turn in a life of wondrous achievement.
Read all our posts about William Jefferson here.