The William Jefferson Chronicles

Jefferson wants trial moved
By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON -- Pressing his case to move his trial, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, argued Monday that he is the only congressman in the past 30 years to be prosecuted outside Washington or his home state.

Jefferson's legal team amended its earlier claim that the government orchestrated a sting operation in the heavily white suburbs of northern Virginia to avoid trying an African-American defendant in the majority black city of Washington, D.C.
Rep. William Jefferson

On Monday, Jefferson sought to bolster his argument for a change of venue by submitting details from 29 prosecutions of members of Congress dating to 1977. In most, the members were prosecuted in Washington or in the states they represented. The only exceptions were the defendants in the Abscam public corruption case, which was brought in the Eastern District of New York.

"This data underscores the anomalous nature of the prosecution of this defendant," Jefferson's legal team wrote.

The government has brushed off the claim that race was a factor in bringing the case. In a court filing last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle called it "baseless," saying that much of the criminal activity alleged in the 16-count indictment took place in northern Virginia.

Jefferson is accused of using his office to enrich himself through bribes and profits from a series of business deals he pushed in West Africa. He has pleaded innocent to all of the charges.

Notably, the government argues, the investor who first contacted the FBI lives in northern Virginia; Jefferson flew several times to West Africa out of Dulles International Airport in Virginia; meetings occurred at restaurants in that state; and the nine-term congressman was filmed by the FBI accepting a briefcase with $100,000 in cash in a parking garage in Arlington, Va.

Legal experts say that as long as the government can prove that some of the alleged illegal activity occurred in the jurisdiction where the case was brought, courts have generally been willing to allow the trials to move ahead.

Jefferson says he was improperly enticed to travel across the Potomac River to meet with the investor-turned-government informant and that it is a stretch to establish legal venue based on the location of departing airline flights.

He also has asked the Department of Justice for internal memos that might help establish the strategy employed by the government in deciding where to bring the case.

Jefferson sought to bolster his argument by saying that trying him in Alexandria, Va., home of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, would be a dramatic break with tradition.

Since the 1977 indictment on federal bribery charges -- later dropped -- of Rep. Edward Garmatz of Maryland, 14 prosecutions of members of Congress have taken place in the members' home states. Eleven others faced charges in federal court in Washington, including the 2006 prosecution of Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements.

The exceptions were four cases that grew out of the Abscam prosecution in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In Abscam, three members of the House and one senator were tried on public corruption charges in the Eastern District of New York where the investigation into trafficking in stolen property began. Two of the House members were tried in Washington.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Ellis III listened to arguments on pretrial motions Friday, but didn't get to the issue of where Jefferson should be tried. Ellis is expected to take up that issue possibly next month. Jefferson is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 16.

Bill Walsh can be reached at or (202) 383-7817.

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