|Judge freezes Jefferson's finances|
Posted by Washington bureau June 07, 2007 2:10PM
By Bill Walsh and Bruce Alpert Washington bureau - NOLA.com
WASHINGTON - A federal judge on Thursday froze the assets of Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, three days after the congressman was indicted on corruption charges.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III granted the government's request for a restraining order keeping Jefferson from using nearly $500,000 and about 33 million shares of corporate stock prosecutors say he was paid in bribes.
Jefferson has maintained his innocence and his legal team had no comment on the judge's order.
Jefferson is accused of engineering numerous business deals in West Africa in exchange for payments made to dummy corporations he controlled.
It is unclear whether Ellis' order froze other accounts unconnected to the 16-count indictment, a move that could hamstring the congressman's ability to pay his legal defense team.
Former federal fraud prosecutor Jonathan Rosen said it wouldn't be unusual for a judge to freeze all of the accounts maintained by a defendant since money could be shifted around and hidden.
"We're talking about cold, hard cash," said Rosen, who has followed the Jefferson case. "Where there is a fungible asset, the scope of the restraining order is broad."
Through last summer, Jefferson had raised more than $130,000 for his legal defense from friends and political allies. But he hasn't dipped into the account since last August, preferring to pay his lawyer and public relations team out of private funds.
While a defendant has a constitutional right to a lawyer, Rosen said that doesn't mean the government can't aggressively pursue a defendant's assets.