William Jefferson guilty on 11 of 16 corruption counts; sentencing is Oct. 30
by Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday August 05, 2009, 5:46 PM
William Jefferson, the former Democratic congressman who served the New Orleans area for nine terms, was found guilty today of 11 of 16 corruption charges.
Michael DeMocker / The Times-PicayuneWilliam Jefferson, with his wife Andrea at his side, listens to his attorney Robert Trout talk to reporters outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., after Jefferson was convicted on 11 of 16 counts in his corruption and bribery trial.
Jefferson was charged with soliciting bribes and other crimes for a series of schemes in which he helped American businesses broker deals in West Africa in exchange for payments or financial considerations to companies controlled by members of his family, including his brother Mose, his wife, Andrea, their five daughters and a son-in-law.
Jefferson faces sentencing Oct. 30 by Judge T.S. Ellis III, who earlier meted out stiff sentences for lesser figures in the case. According to the U.S. attorney's office, Jefferson faced 235 years in prison if convicted on all counts. Chief prosecutor Mark Lytle said Jefferson could face more than 20 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
With Jefferson, 62, facing what could be the equivalent of a life sentence, prosecutors asked Ellis to remand him to jail as a flight risk. But the judge allowed him to remain free pending his sentencing. A forfeiture hearing will be held Thursday to decide what assets Jefferson will have to surrender.
In a post-verdict news conference, Jefferson referred all questions to his attorney Robert Trout. When asked how he was holding up, the former congressman said, "I'm holding up."
Trout said he was very disappointed in the verdict and did not believe that the government had proved its case. He said he was planning to file an appeal.
Click to read a PDF of the charges and verdicts in former Congressman William Jefferson's trial.
The verdict came a little more than four years after the Aug. 3, 2005 raids of Jefferson's homes in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., in which the FBI found $90,000 in marked bills hidden in the freezer of his D.C. home. The government said Jefferson was going to deliver that money as a bribe to Atiku Abubakar, then vice president of Nigeria, to gain his help with a telecommunications deal in Nigeria being pursued by Lori Mody, a Northern Virginia businesswoman.
The money was the lion's share of $100,000 in FBI cash that the congressman was videotaped receiving packed in a briefcase days earlier in a suburban Virginia parking lot from Mody, who, beginning in March of 2005, had become a cooperating witness for the FBI, secretly taping her conversations with Jefferson.
The jury did not find him guilty on the Foreign Corruptions Practices Act, which was the count linked to the money in the freezer.
While Mody did not testify at the trial, the jury heard segments of her taped conversations with Jefferson along with more than six weeks of testimony from government witnesses, including iGate Inc. CEO Vernon Jackson and Mody financial adviser Brett Pfeffer, both of whom are serving time after pleading guilty to their involvement in the bribe schemes, and hoped to see their sentences reduced in exchange for their testimony against Jefferson.
Jefferson did not testify in his own defense and his formal defense lasted only about two hours. In his closing argument, Trout presented his client as a man whose dealings had placed him in an ethical "gray" area, but who had not broken the law.
Trout's argument was that Jefferson's help on these business deals in Africa were beyond the purview of his "official acts" as a member of Congress, and thus did not violate bribery statutes which prohibit receiving things of value in exchange for official acts.
Trout argued that most of the key witness, including Jackson and Pfeffer, and a number of others who testified to avoid prosecution for their own involvement in the various schemes, were telling stories the government wanted to hear to save their own skins.
Of the government case, Trout said, "It boggles the mind how they constructed their way around the facts to make something that was not a crime seem like a crime. That's power."
The prosecution team scoffed at the notion that Jefferson had anyone to blame but himself, portraying Jefferson as a relentless shakedown artist.
"He never let an opportunity to demand a bribe payment pass him by," said assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows in her closing argument.
The jury was comprised of six white women, two white men, two black women and two black men.
Jefferson, the first African-American congressman from Louisiana since Reconstruction, was defeated in a storm-delayed general election in December by Anh "Joseph'' Cao, a little-known Republican attorney who benefited from a very low turnout.