The William Jefferson Chronicles

William Jefferson sentencing of 27-33 years recommended
By Jonathan Tilove
November 06, 2009, 9:04PM

Prosecutors on Friday night issued a memorandum recommending that former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson be sentenced to between 27 and 33 years in prison.

Jefferson, 62, will be sentenced by federal Judge T.S. Ellis III on Nov. 13.

The prosecution's sentencing memorandum suggests that Jefferson, who served 18 years in Congress, may have hidden resources and "poses a significant risk of flight,'' and ought to be immediately remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service after sentencing at the Alexandria, Va., courthouse.

If Ellis follows the U.S. attorney's office recommendations, Jefferson would face by far the longest prison term ever imposed for congressional corruption, dwarfing the sentences meted out in such famous scandals as Abscam, Koreagate and Wedetch.

In March 2006, Former Rep. Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham of California was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes to help military contractors win government contracts. At the time, prosecutors described the sentence as longest ever handed down for a member or former member of Congress in a corruption case.

"Because Congressman Jefferson's crimes against the people of the United States were exceptional in their sheer number, length and breadth, the United States respectfully requests that this Court sentence the defendant within the applicable guideline range,'' the memorandum states. "While the guidelines sentence calculated by the Probation Office is lengthy, it is appropriate, in that Congressman Jefferson's criminal activities have surely caused or substantially added to the loss of public confidence and trust in our nation's highest levels of government.''

Later, the 25-page memorandum states, "A sentence within the guidelines range will communicate to Congressman Jefferson that his repeated attempts to sell his office were not only criminal, they were egregious. ... A severe sentence would send the message to the public that such egregious and criminal behavior will not be tolerated in our society.''

As to his flight risk, the government asserted that despite being in bankruptcy, Jefferson may have sufficient hidden resources and contacts in Africa to try to make his escape between sentencing and being remanded to prison if he has the opportunity.

According to the memorandum, "law enforcement agents learned of several wire transfers from offshore territories into U.S. financial accounts that were either controlled by the defendant or whose proceeds were made available for his benefit.''

The government's conclusion: "Given the age of the defendant, the severity of the sentence calculated by the Probation Office, the defendant's frequent travel overseas and unexplained wire transfers from overseas locations to financial accounts used by the defendant, the defendant cannot rebut the presumption at sentencing that he is a risk of flight.''

Jefferson is planning to appeal his verdict, and his attorneys may submit a reply to the government memorandum next week.

Jefferson was found guilty on Aug. 6 of 11 of 16 corruption counts, including soliciting bribes, depriving citizens of honest service in their representative, money laundering and racketeering. The charges revolved around a series of schemes in which Jefferson, who took a keen interest in African affairs as a member of Congress and was on good terms with heads of state and other influential figures on the continent, sought to help American businesses secure business deals in West Africa in exchange for payments to shell companies held in the name of his wife, his daughters and his brother, Mose.

Jefferson claimed he was not acting in his official capacity as a member of Congress when he was working on those deals and therefore the payments were not bribes.

The case earned an indelible place in the American popular imagination when an FBI raid of his Washington, D.C., home in the summer of 2005 discovered $90,000 in marked FBI bills stowed in the freezer. The FBI thought Jefferson had delivered the money as a bribe to Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Ellis has already issued harsh sentences to supporting players in the case. In 2006 he sentenced Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide who pleaded guilty to being a go-between in the bribe scheme, to eight years in prison. In 2007, he sentenced Vernon Jackson, the CEO of IGate Inc. to seven years and three months. Jackson pleaded guilty to making payments to a company controlled by Jefferson's wife, Andrea, and their five children, for the congressman's help in landing telecommunications business in West Africa.

Both Jackson and Pfeffer, dressed in prison jumpsuits, testified against Jefferson at his trial.

The first African-American to represent Louisiana in Congress since Reconstruction, Jefferson was defeated in December in a hurricane-delayed election, by a virtual unknown, Republican, Anh "Joseph'' Cao.

Jonathan Tilove can be reached at or 202.383.7827

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