Jefferson Found Guilty of Bribery Charges
A federal jury found ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) guilty Wednesday of 11 criminal charges including conspiracy to solicit bribes, money laundering, wire fraud and a pattern of racketeering activity.
The jury found him not guilty on five charges, including obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Jefferson has not yet been sentenced, but the charges could carry more than 100 years in prison. Prosecutors admitted in court that “it could potentially amount to a life sentence given the defendant’s age,— according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
The judge scheduled a hearing this morning on how much money Jefferson will be required to forfeit. According to a Justice Department spokesman, the forfeiture could include payments made totaling $456,000 plus stock certificates.
After the verdict, acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said, “No person, not even a Congressman, is above the law.—
But Jefferson attorney Robert Trout said he plans to appeal the verdict. “We certainly believe that we have a very strong legal issue,— he said.
Trout argued in myriad motions before the trial that Jefferson’s activities were essentially personal business dealings, not official acts for which he could be charged with taking bribes. “I think we’ll be evaluating the verdict … and all the legal issues,— Trout said.
The former Congressman had no comment on the verdict, but he told reporters, “I’m holding up— and smiled.
The verdict followed a trial that lasted more than seven weeks and comes more than two years after Jefferson was first indicted on 16 counts of violating federal laws.
Most of the trial was consumed by the prosecution’s detailed case, which included numerous witnesses and took five weeks. Jefferson’s defense lasted less than one full day and consisted largely of playing portions of FBI recordings of Jefferson’s conversations that were not incriminating.
Federal prosecutors, aided by witnesses — including two serving jail terms after pleading guilty to bribing Jefferson — and FBI wiretaps, argued that the former Congressman used a complex web of business deals to solicit bribes and skirt public scrutiny as he abused his Congressional office for personal gain.
In particular, the prosecution accused Jefferson of arranging and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes funneled through “sham— consulting firms owned by his family members in exchange for his help promoting business ventures in West African nations.
The firms’ “sole reason for existence is to paper over a corrupt deal,— Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows said in her two-hour closing statement. “Congressman Jefferson not only sold his office, but he wanted to make sure he got top dollar for it.—
In his defense, Jefferson’s attorneys repeatedly attacked the FBI as overzealous and accused the Justice Department of stretching the law to fit its case.
During both his opening and closing statements, Trout also stressed to jurors that Jefferson did not break any laws, even if his actions might have violated internal House rules.
“There is a difference between a gray area and committing a crime,— Trout said during his closing argument.
During the trial, which began June 9, photographs of $90,000 in cash that FBI agents seized from a freezer during a 2005 raid of Jefferson’s home remained prominent.
During his closing argument, Trout called Jefferson’s decision to take the money “not only stupid, it was an exercise in awful judgment. … And he has paid a very steep price.—
But ultimately, the jury acquitted Jefferson of the primary charge connected to that money — a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The government alleged that Jefferson had taken the money with the intent to bribe the then-vice president of Nigeria, but Trout said he took the money only to appease a business associate and never intended to use it as bribe money.
The money was given to Jefferson by an FBI informant, Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody, who played a key role in recording her conversations with Jefferson but did not testify at the trial.