AUGUST 06, 2009
The Louisiana congressman who made worldwide headlines and earned the nickname “Dollar Bill” for stashing a $90,000 cash bribe in his freezer has been convicted of nearly a dozen corruption counts, including bribery, racketeering and money laundering.
Democrat William Jefferson, who represented New Orleans in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly two decades, was found guilty after an eight-week trial of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes—and unlawfully using his office to seek millions more—to broker business deals in Africa. Prosecutors say he was involved in 11 separate bribery schemes during a five-year period alone.
The disgraced lawmaker’s lengthy corruption scheme gained notoriety when the FBI, hot on his tracks for years, videotaped him accepting a $100,000 bribe in a leather briefcase at a hotel in Virginia. Authorities subsequently found $90,000 of the marked bills stashed in the freezer of Jefferson’s house, wrapped in foil and hidden in boxes of frozen pie crust.
Jefferson vehemently maintained his innocence, utilizing comical defense tactics in a desperate effort to get the charges dismissed and race to move the trial to a friendlier venue. Jefferson, who is black, asked a judge to move his corruption trial from the jurisdiction (Virginia) where he was caught taking the $100,000 bribe on video because there aren’t enough blacks for the jury pool.
He also demanded the charges get dropped by claiming that the bribery indictment unconstitutionally infringed on his privileges as a congressman because grand jury testimony given by his staffers violated the Constitutional clause that protects legislative activity from intervention by other branches of government. Judicial Watch explains the Speech or Debate clause in an amicus brief involving the Jefferson case.
An Ivy League law school graduate, Jefferson also asked the court to suppress incriminating testimony he made to the FBI because he was not advised by agents of his right to remain silent and right to speak to an attorney, even though he is himself a lawyer and chose to speak to agents.
Another desperate argument claimed Jefferson’s misdeeds were technically influence peddling and not bribery as federal prosecutors charged. Based on that theory, federal bribery laws apply to a congressman only if a bribe is exchanged for official action like taking votes or sponsoring legislation.
Each time, the outlandish tactics were defeated in court. Now the convicted felon, who narrowly lost reelection to an 11th term in 2008, faces up to 150 years in prison and a hefty fine of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. His sentencing is scheduled for the end of October. The former lawmaker will join his little sister—guilty of skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from charities operated by her corrupt relatives—in prison, with several other family members soon to follow.
Five members of the Jefferson family, once among Louisiana’s most politically prominent, have been charged with federal crimes in the last few years and little sister Brenda Jefferson was the first to plead guilty last summer. William Jefferson’s conviction resolves the second case and three others are still pending. Among them is brother Mose Jefferson, a well-connected lobbyist, charged with bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice involving a public school official. Clearly, corruption is a Jefferson family affair.
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