The William Jefferson Chronicles

Stephanie Grace: William Jefferson can't shake Dollar Bill image
Posted by Stephanie Grace, Columnist, The Times-Picayune August 05, 2009 7:55PM

For four years, former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson has been known as the politician with the $90,000 in his freezer.

The nine-term New Orleans congressman spawned a thousand jokes about cold cash, frozen assets and the like. And he unwittingly coined a catch phrase with his ultimately unfulfilled promise of an "honorable explanation" for the stash, which FBI agents discovered in his Washington townhouse on Aug. 3, 2005.

Jefferson never delivered the money to then-Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar in exchange for help landing a telecom deal for a company in which the congressman held an interest, as he told investor-turned-government informant Lori Mody that he'd do.

Still, Jefferson attorney Robert Trout acknowledged the image's power, labeling the discovery of the money a "toxic fact" that has already ruined Jefferson's reputation and career and brought shame and humiliation to his family.

Yet in the trial's great irony, the Alexandria, Va., jury didn't convict Jefferson of being the congressman with the cold cash.

In essence, it convicted him of being the man Dutch Morial said he was decades ago, when he bestowed the nickname that Jefferson was never able to shake.

It convicted him of being Dollar Bill.

Jurors found Jefferson innocent on the major count involving the money, the allegation that he had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by accepting a briefcase full of marked bills from Mody, on tape, with the supposed intention of using it to bribe Abubakar.

Turns out it didn't matter, because they found Jefferson guilty of 11 other charges in the 16-count indictment.

Jefferson isn't staring at a long prison sentence because he made one "stupid" move, as Trout put it. He owes his predicament to what the jury found was a stunning pattern of behavior, of using the trappings, clout and prestige that came with his office to enrich himself and his family.

Jefferson was found guilty of conspiring to solicit bribes for help setting up international deals involving sugar, fertilizer, oil, garbage-to-energy incinerators, satellite educational programming, as well as the Internet technology deal involving Mody. Often the money was supposed to be funneled to his brother Mose, who is scheduled to stand trial next week on unrelated bribery charges.

The ex-congressman was convicted of actually soliciting bribes from Mody. He was also found guilty of soliciting kickbacks from Vernon Jackson, the telecom entrepreneur who pleaded guilty and has been sitting in prison since 2007, money that was paid to a company owned by Jefferson's wife and daughters.

Jefferson was convicted on three counts of depriving his constituents of his "honest services," although he was acquitted on three other similar charges. He was also convicted of three counts of money laundering.

Jurors even decided that Jefferson was guilty of having run his congressional office as a criminal enterprise, the basis of the single racketeering charge.

They actually didn't give him a complete pass on the $90,000 either.

The fact that Jefferson kept the money rather than delivering it -- for reasons we'll probably never know -- may have saved him from the Foreign Corrupt Practices conviction, but jurors did decide that he conspired to bribe foreign officials. So much for the defense claim that Jefferson lied to Mody when he said he'd deliver the money because she seemed fragile and he wanted to appease her.

Who knows, the photographs shown in court of all that money stuffed into pie dough and veggie burger boxes could have also contributed to a general sense in jurors' minds that Jefferson was a sketchy character.

Trout did his best to put a less damaging spin on the photos. He said Jefferson's decision to take the money and hide it was a tragic mistake but an isolated act.

Wednesday afternoon, eight women and four men from Virginia said they disagreed.

. . . .

Stephanie Grace is a staff writer. She may be reached at 504.826.3383 or at

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