By Bruce Alpert, Times-Picayune
Published Friday, May 5, 2012 9:00 AM
Former Democratic Rep. William Jefferson reported Friday
to the low-security federal prison in Beaumont, Texas,
to begin serving a 13-year sentence, the longest ever
for a congressional member. Jefferson, 65, arrived about
40 minutes ahead of the noon deadline set by U.S.
District Judge T.S. Ellis III who presided over
Jefferson's 2009 trial for corruption and bribery.
William Jefferson reported to a federal prison in Texas on Friday to begin his 13-year sentence on corruption charges.
It marked a dramatic change for the man who had risen from a childhood in Lake Providence, one of north Louisiana's poorest communities, to a Harvard law degree, a leadership role in the Louisiana Legislature and nine-terms in Congress representing New Orleans, including a spot on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
After processing by prison officials, Jefferson was assigned to one of the facility's dormitory-style units where he also will get a work assignment that could include kitchen duties or clean-up tasks in prisoner living units.
Jefferson was convicted of orchestrating a series of schemes in which he used his position to promote business deals in Africa, in exchange for payments and a promised share of profits. Prosecutors said Jefferson had turned his congressional office into a criminal racketeering enterprise. Ellis said his conduct was "a cancer on the body politic."
Jefferson's lawyers said he was merely making private business deals not related to his office. But federal prosecutors convinced a jury his efforts amounted to selling the influence of his congressional seat.
His downfall began when a disgruntled investor went to the FBI in 2005, expressing concerns that she was being defrauded by the congressman.
Lori Mody, a Virginia businesswoman, wore a wire to record her conversations with Jefferson and handed him a briefcase stuffed with $100,000 as FBI cameras recorded the transaction. Mody and the FBI believed that Jefferson was going to use the money to bribe a Nigerian elected official. All but $10,000 of the cash was later found hidden in Jefferson's freezer.
Jefferson was indicted in 2007 on 17 charges, including bribery, racketeering and honest services fraud. He lost his House seat to Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao in 2008. One year later, a Virginia jury convicted him on 11 of the 17 charges.
WDSU-TV reported that Jefferson and about half-dozen family members and friends arrived at the Beaumont prison in two cars Friday morning. Jefferson made no comment.
Under federal sentencing rules, Jefferson will be required to serve a little over 11 years. He is likely to be moved next year, if not sooner, to a federal prison camp, which could be the one on the Beaumont federal prison campus. Inmates in prison camps have more freedom of movement.
Beaumont, about 270 miles west of New Orleans, is close enough that Jefferson can get regular visits from his wife, Andrea, his five daughters, and grandchildren, which his attorney, Robert Trout, said is a priority for him.
After sentencing Jefferson to 13 years in prison in November 2009, Ellis, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, allowed Jefferson to remain free, under electronic monitor, while his appeals process moved forward.
But after a three-judge appellate panel rejected a plea by Jefferson's lawyers for a new trial March 26, Ellis revoked his $50,000 bail and ordered him to begin his sentence within two weeks.
Jefferson's lawyers are expected to mount their final legal challenge with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which rebuffed Jefferson's request for a new trial, threw out one of the 11 guilty counts, a wire-fraud charge.
Ellis said the dropped conviction didn't persuade him to reduce Jefferson's 13-year sentence, which he said was intended to deter other public officials from corruption. Jefferson, who along with his wife filed for bankruptcy after his 2009 conviction, will continue to receive his congressional pension, estimated at between $40,000 and $50,000, during his prison stay.
Congress in 2007 barred pensions to retired members convicted of felonies, but did not make the rule retroactive. Legal experts said Congress doesn't have the authority to take away benefits already awarded.
Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.450.1406.