JUNE 04, 2007
The veteran Louisiana congressman caught with a $90,000 cash bribe in his freezer is finally being charged for starring in a mega corruption scandal involving a company seeking contracts in the Nigerian telecommunications market.
Federal authorities have announced a massive indictment against Democrat Representative William Jefferson that details his involvement in a 16-month public corruption probe that culminated with an FBI videotape of him accepting the cash. Federal agents subsequently raided Jefferson’s home and found the money, in marked bills, stashed in his freezer and wrapped in aluminum foil.
The indictment, which is being issued in U.S. District Court in Alexandria Virginia, is more than an inch thick and outlines a plethora of evidence against the nine-term congressman. Justice Department officials say the 63-year-old Jefferson could be sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
A lot of key evidence has come from two Jefferson associates who have struck plea bargains with prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation. One is Brett Pfeffer, a former congressional aide who admitted soliciting bribes on Jefferson’s behalf and the other is a telecommunications executive (Vernon Jackson) who pleaded guilty to paying Jefferson about $1 million in exchange for the lawmaker’s assistance securing deals in various African nations.
Not surprisingly, Jefferson maintains his innocence and claims that a precedent-setting raid of his Capitol Hill office was unconstitutional because it trampled on congressional independence and violated the constitutionally established separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
A federal judge authorized last year’s 18-hour FBI search – the first ever at a Capitol Hill office–which led to the seizure of records, equipment and other incriminating evidence. Last month Jefferson argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the raid was unconstitutional.
Judicial Watch filed an amicus brief stating that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, which protects members of Congress from “intimidation by the executive and accountability before a possible hostile judiciary,” does not make the search of Jefferson’s office unconstitutional. The Speech or Debate Clause, the brief states, only protects members of Congress conducting legislative actions.
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