The William Jefferson Chronicles

William Jefferson's attorneys argue for shorter sentence
By Jonathan Tilove
November 09, 2009, 4:46PM

Former Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, should get a prison term of less than 10 years when he faces sentencing Friday in his federal bribery convictions, his attorneys said in a 95-page filing today.
Prosecutors in the case last week recommended a sentence of between 27 and 33 years.

But Jefferson's legal team, led by Washington attorney Robert Trout, argued the government recommendation is out of whack with previous sentences for congressional corruption and unmindful of much that was praiseworthy in Jefferson's life and career.

"The law requires the court to impose a sentence that is in keeping with sentences imposed upon individuals with similar records, who have been found guilty of similar conduct and no court has ever imposed a sentence longer than 100 months in a case involving a United States Congressman, even a United States Congressman convicted of bribery after a trial," the memorandum argues.

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.

Jefferson was found guilty Aug. 6 of 11 of 16 corruption counts, including soliciting bribes, depriving citizens of honest service in their representative, money laundering and racketeering. The case gained national attention for the $90,000 federal agents found hidden in the freezer of Jefferson's home in Washington, D.C.

In the memorandum, Jefferson's lawyers contend the government's sentence recommendation also ignores a fuller picture of Jefferson, his extraordinary life story and many contributions.

"William Jefferson is more than the punchline of a late night talk show joke or the one-dimensional character depicted in the prosecution's arguments,'' the defense memorandum argues. "He has done much more in his life than pursue the business ventures described during the trial. And therefore the defense seeks to acquaint the court with the rest of the picture, with how William Jefferson is and where he came from.

"The court can and indeed must, fully explore and consider Mr. Jefferson's life story -- the obstacles he has overcome, the career in public service he pursued, and his many positive contributions -- to ensure that while the sanction adequately reflects the gravity of the offense, it is not greater than necessary to serve the ends of justice.'

The memorandum notes that "the story of William Jefferson is a story of an extraordinary and unlikely rise from simple beginnings, inspired by the faith and industriousness of his parents. It is also a story of a man who never forgot where he came for."

The submission to the court is accompanied by another 49 pages of letters to Judge T.S. Ellis III from some prominent figures in New Orleans and elsewhere speaking on Jefferson's behalf, and an extended excerpt from Jefferson's semi-autobiographical book, "Dying is the Easy Part."

It include support letters for Jefferson from his five daughters, his pastor, Bishop Paul S. Morton Sr., the Rev.Tom Watson, former Harvard Law School classmate Weldon J. Rougeau, former Louisiana Senate President Sammy Nunez, Liberty Bank President Alden J. McDonald Jr., Charles C. Teamer Sr., Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., former Rep. Jim. McCrery III, and former staffers Eugene Green and Stephanie Butler.

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