The William Jefferson Chronicles

William Jefferson's sentencing pushed back to Nov. 13
By Bruce Alpert, Times-Picayune
October 14, 2009, 7:26PM

Sentencing for former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson now will be Nov. 13, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled Wednesday.

Jefferson originally was scheduled for sentencing Oct. 30 after he was found guilty in August by a Virginia jury on 11 of 16 corruption charges.

Also Wednesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released a March 2007 ruling that allowed the Justice Department to use material from Jefferson's congressional office. The ruling had been sealed at Jefferson's request because its release would have disclosed that he had invoked his 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination in trying to keep the documents out of the hands of investigators.

Disclosure of his 5th Amendment claim in advance of any grand jury indictment, which didn't come until June 2007, would have been unfairly prejudicial, the 4th Circuit decided.

In its ruling, the appellate court agreed with Ellis that documents obtained from Jefferson's personal inner office was off limits, but material obtained from the outside suite of offices that housed his nine-member staff could be shown to the grand jury.

The appeals court said that Jefferson's 5th Amendment argument wasn't valid because his then-chief of staff, Nicole Venable, had jurisdiction over many of the disputed documents. Since the documents weren't specifically under Jefferson's direct control, the three-judge panel ruled that the government could compel the chief of staff to hand them over to the federal grand jury.

In asking Ellis for a delay in sentencing, Jefferson's attorneys, led by Robert Trout, said a defendant is entitled to receive a pre-sentence report from the federal probation officer at least 35 days before sentencing. Jefferson didn't receive his report until Oct. 1, meaning the earliest sentencing could occur under federal rules is Nov. 5, according to the brief filed last week.

The lawyers asked for another week's delay because of what they called the "complexity of the case, " and Ellis agreed to the request.

Jefferson, 62, was convicted Aug. 5 of soliciting bribes, money laundering, depriving citizens of honest services as a member of Congress and turning his congressional office into a racketeering enterprise. He was acquitted of charges of obstruction of justice, violating the Foreign Corrupt Services Act and three honest services counts.

Prosecutors are likely to ask for a sentence of 20 years or more. Jefferson's attorneys are likely to ask for a significantly lower sentence and that he remain free pending a likely appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Among other issues, the defense attorneys are likely to argue that Ellis erred in not granting Jefferson a new trial on grounds that the jury was not told that an undercover FBI agent involved in the investigation had a sexual relationship with the key government informant, Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody. Mody secretly recorded conversations with Jefferson between March and August, 2005.

The corruption trial centered on evidence that Jefferson demanded payments to family-owned companies in return for his help in promoting business projects in Western Africa. His attorneys argued that the allegations involved private dealings, not official acts by a member of Congress, and therefore were not covered by the federal bribery statute.

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Bruce Alpert can be reached at or 202.383.7861.

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