The William Jefferson Chronicles

EDITORIAL: A Jefferson breaks ranks
Saturday, June 21, 2008

Accusing a U.S. congressman and several of his closest relatives of an array of crimes -- as federal prosecutors have in the past year -- is quite remarkable.

So was the months-long monolithic position of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson and his relatives that they had not committed wrongdoing and would defend themselves vigorously to vindicate the family name.

That united front is no more.

Brenda Jefferson, the congressman's younger sister, confessed this week to being part of a conspiracy to skim truckloads of public money from family-controlled nonprofits.

Prosecutors alleged the scheme -- one of several they attribute to the Jefferson clan -- bilked at least $627,000 in public funds aimed at helping poor residents in New Orleans.

Ms. Jefferson became the first family member to plead guilty and point the finger at some of her relatives. That's a significant leap in the government's case.

Rep. Jefferson, his sister and New Orleans 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson, brother Mose Jefferson and niece Angela Coleman have all been charged with crimes. They all maintain they are innocent, and they are entitled to be presumed so.

But Brenda Jefferson's testimony, which she's vowing to provide at trial, complicates some of her relatives' defense.

Among her confessions, Brenda Jefferson said that at Betty Jefferson's direction she forged a name in a grant application and had a non-profit's accountant write checks for people who the assessor knew did not work for the charity.

Brenda Jefferson also said that at Mose Jefferson's direction she opened a bank account to deposit state money and disbursed the funds as Mose Jefferson instructed.

Both Betty and Mose Jefferson, as well as Ms. Coleman, pleaded innocent in federal court Friday.

The known testimony from Brenda Jefferson does not involve Rep. Jefferson. But the congressman's separate legal troubles are growing into a bigger distraction that continues to taint the state's reputation.

Rep. Jefferson has refused to resign, though. On the contrary, he announced this week that he plans to seek re-election this fall.

He should not run again. He faces a December trial for bribery and other corruption charges -- and will surely be preparing for it in coming months.

Residents in his district deserve a representative who is focused on their crucial recovery needs. As the legal cloud over his family grows more ominous, Rep. Jefferson does not fit that bill.

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