The William Jefferson Chronicles

The William Jefferson verdict
Posted by The Times-Picayune editorial page staff August 05, 2009 6:57PM

Four years to the week after federal agents found $90,000 stashed in a freezer at his Washington home, former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson was found guilty Wednesday of putting his clout up for sale.

The guilty verdicts on 11 of 16 corruption counts ought to at last lift the cloud that Mr. Jefferson's tawdry behavior has cast over New Orleans since the FBI raid Aug. 3, 2005.

Oddly enough, the jury in Alexandria, Va., returned a not guilty verdict on the count involving the $90,000, which prosecutors said Mr. Jefferson planned to deliver as a bribe to the vice president of Nigeria.

But jurors left no doubt about their view of Mr. Jefferson's actions. They found him guilty of multiple counts of conspiracy to solicit bribes and wire fraud in connection with a series of schemes in which he helped American businesses broker deals in West Africa in exchange for payments to companies controlled by members of his family.

Mr. Jefferson promised an honorable explanation for the money found wrapped in Boca Burger and Pillsbury pie crust boxes in his freezer. There wasn't one.

An honorable person wouldn't arrange a surreptitious meeting in a parking lot for the hand-off of a briefcase full of money.

His lawyer argued that Mr. Jefferson ventured into an ethical "gray" area. But the jury clearly didn't buy that.

Mr. Jefferson committed despicable acts that brought shame upon himself and unfair notoriety to his former congressional district. Voters in the 2nd District showed their disgust with that behavior and voted him out of office in December.

It is a shame that a man with such gifts had his career end in disgrace. Mr. Jefferson's personal story once was an inspiration to Louisianians as he rose from poverty to Harvard Law School and eventually to Congress.

He was the first African-American congressman from Louisiana since Reconstruction, and his expertise in trade should have been a benefit to his constituents.

Instead, he used it to benefit himself.

An FBI agent who took part in the raid four years ago described Mr. Jefferson's response after he was shown a videotape of himself taking the briefcase of money from the government's informant.

Mr. Jefferson, he said, "looked very dejected, sunk back into the couch and started saying, "What a waste. What a waste."

Indeed: a waste of intellect, a waste of his position and a waste of the public's trust.

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