The William Jefferson Chronicles

William Jefferson trial begins today
by The Times-Picayune
Tuesday June 09, 2009, 5:00 AM

ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- A pool of 100 potential jurors will gather in the federal courthouse in northern Virginia early today for the public corruption trial of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans.

Jefferson, who served nine terms in Congress before being ousted in December, is accused of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and violation of the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act for allegedly demanding and, in some cases, accepting payments to family-owned businesses in return for his help winning approval of projects in several West African nations.

If convicted, Jefferson, 62, would likely face up to 20 years in prison.

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks. The prosecution's case will include some of the hundreds of hours of secretly recorded conversations, many between Jefferson and Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody, a disgruntled investor who became a cooperating witness for the federal government.

Defense attorneys have said that Jefferson's actions do not meet the legal definition of public bribery because it does not involve "official acts" -- votes, legislation or earmarks -- by Jefferson in exchange for considerations. They say he was operating as a private citizen in helping to broker deals for worthy businesses.

Judge T.S. Ellis III has said he will ask members of the jury pool if they know Jefferson or others involved in the case and then require those remaining to fill out a confidential questionnaire. Aided by the questionnaire and jurors' responses to questions from prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge, a panel of 12 plus four alternates will be selected, Ellis said.

The case is best-known for the $90,000 in marked bills FBI agents say they found stuffed inside the freezer of Jefferson's home in Washington, D.C., in 2005.

Jefferson has promised an honorable explanation for why the cash he took from Mody ended up stored in his refrigerator.

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