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Jefferson’s Jury Speaks

Bruce Alpert of the Times-Picayune dissects the jury’s deliberations in last summer’s trial of former congressman William Jefferson. Alpert’s story confirms for the first time that the jury believed Jefferson was guilty of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Jefferson, 63, was found guilty on 11 of 16 corruption charges, including one count of conspiracy. He was acquitted of the single substantive FCPA charge he faced. He was sentenced in November to 13 years in prison and is free pending appeal.

Jefferson was the first and only U.S. public official to be charged under the FCPA since it was enacted in 1977. 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 government informant Lori Mody. Prosecutors said Jefferson planned to use it to bribe Nigeria’s then vice president, Atiku Abubakar.

But two jurors told the Times Picayune’s Alpert there were doubts Jefferson actually intended to use the $100,000 to bribe Abubakar, despite what he told informant Mody.

“I think there was some thought he intended to keep the money himself, and that’s not the crime he was accused of,” said one juror who added that the remaining 10 jurors eventually went along with the sentiments of their two colleagues.

As the FCPA Blog 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.” 

Alpert’s report, however, confirmed that jurors convicted Jefferson of conspiracy to violate the FCPA. They decided that Jefferson’s discussions with Mody about “wanting to keep Abubakar happy was enough to support a charge of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” Presumably the jury believed Jefferson planned to promise or give Abubakar something other than the cash in his freezer.

Alpert’s report is the first confirmation from the jury itself that it convicted Jefferson on an FCPA-related count. Their verdict form alleged three separate illegal conspiracies — to solicit bribes, deprive citizens of honest services, and violate the FCPA. But the form didn’t require the jury to specify which of the three illegal conspiracies it believed Jefferson engaged in.

Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided over the trial, later said he regretted not making the jury’s verdict form more specific.

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