Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sentence of 13 Years for Ex-Louisiana Congressman

November 14, 2009

Sentence of 13 Years for Ex-Louisiana Congressman

New York Times

WASHINGTON — Former Representative William J. Jefferson, a New Orleans Democrat whose political career once seemed to hold high promise, was sentenced Friday to 13 years in prison for using his office to try to enrich himself and his relatives.

The sentence was far less than recommended by prosecutors, who had sought at least 27 years. Mr. Jefferson, 62, who was convicted on Aug. 5 of bribery, racketeering and money laundering involving business ventures in Africa, might have had to spend the rest of his life behind bars with such a sentence, since there is no parole in the federal prison system, and the only leniency is 15 percent off for good behavior.

Judge T. S. Ellis III sentenced Mr. Jefferson in United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., where a jury had found him guilty of 11 of 16 counts.

Mr. Jefferson said nothing before sentencing. His chief lawyer, Robert P. Trout, has said he would appeal the conviction.

The jury concluded, after a six-week trial, that from 2000 to 2005 Mr. Jefferson sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from companies involved in oil, sugar, communications and other businesses, often for projects in Africa. In return, prosecutors said, he used his post on the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee to promote the companies’ ventures without disclosing his own financial interests in the deals.

Mr. Trout tried to convince jurors that, while the business-promotion activities might have been unwise, they were not criminal because they did not qualify as “official acts” under public corruption laws.

Mr. Jefferson graduated from Harvard Law School. In 1990, after 11 years in the Louisiana State Senate, he became the first black person from Louisiana elected to Congress since Reconstruction, according to The Almanac of American Politics. From time to time, he showed interest in running for senator or governor. But mired in scandal, he lost his House seat in the 2008 election.

Prosecutors said that while he might have sought millions of dollars in bribes, Mr. Jefferson might have actually received less than $400,000. In any event, his case gave rise to episodes of near-comedy, and to an intragovernmental battle with constitutional implications.

In a raid on Mr. Jefferson’s Washington-area home in August 2005, federal agents found $90,000 neatly wrapped in aluminum foil in a freezer. Prosecutors said the money was from Kentucky business interests and was supposed to be a bribe for a high Nigerian official, who later denied being part of any scheme.

In May 2006, agents raided Mr. Jefferson’s Congressional office, the first time the Federal Bureau of Investigation had ever searched a Congressional office, and the action was denounced by lawmakers in both parties as an unconstitutional intrusion on Congressional independence by the Justice Department.

A federal judge upheld the raid, but an appeals court ruled that it was constitutionally flawed. The Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court.

No comments: