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William Jennings Jefferson
Democrat, Louisiana (1991-2008)
Update: November 14, 2009: Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison by a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia. Prosecutors had asked for 27 years, but the judge determined that given Jefferson's age (62), that would amount to a life sentence. His lawyers say they will appeal the conviction.
The Honorable William Jefferson, an nine-term congressman from Louisiana, is subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. In August 2005, federal agents searched both his Washington, D.C. and New Orleans homes. They found large quantities of cash ($90,000) in the freezer in one of his homes.
The FBI has been investigating Jefferson in connection with a telecommunications business deal he tried to start in Nigeria. Agents also raided the homes of Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar in Maryland.
Update: On January 11, 2006, Brett Pfeffer, a former legislative director to Jefferson pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting bribery of a public official (Guess who?) and conspiracy. Court papers state that Jefferson demanded bribes in exchange for his help in promoting a pair of business deals in Africa. Pfeffer said that the congressman solicited business in Nigeria and Ghana in 2004-2005 and demanded a 5 to 7 percent kickback.
Update: On March 31, 2006, six aides to Jefferson were subpoenaed by the grand jury.
Update: On May 3, 2006, Vernon L. Jackson, a Louisville businessman who owns iGate Inc., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe and bribery in U.S. District Court in Virginia. Jackson said he bribed Jefferson with more than $400,000 in payments, company stock, and shares in the company's high-tech business ventures in Africa.
Update: On May 8, 2006, court documents revealed that a wary northern Virginia investor, Lori Mody, agreed to cooperate with the FBI in its investigation of public corruption and Jefferson. She was wired for sound, and met with Jefferson several times. Her phone messages were also recorded.
Jefferson vehemently denies any wrongdoing: "I was surprised and disappointed to learn of Vernon Jackson's guilty plea . . . As I have previously stated, I have never over all the years of my public service, accepted payment from anyone for the performance of any act or duty for which I have been elected. I am confident and am trusting God, that this simple fact will be established in the proper forum as I am innocent in the matter to which Vernon Jackson has pleaded guilty."
Jefferson also said he wouldn't resign. On May 15, 2006, he was asked by a reporter if he planned to resign. "Far from it," he said, "I have come to declare, among other things, my continued intention to serve."
Update: On May 20, 2006, about fifteen FBI agents raided Jefferson's Capitol Hill office. A FBI spokeswoman said, that "the search was conducted this evening in conjunction with an ongoing FBI public corruption investigation." On July 10, 2006, a federal judge that the FBI raid was constitutional, saying the government "demonstrated a compelling need to conduct the search," given all the other elements of the public corruption charges.
Update: On May 21, the FBI released an 83-page affidavit portraying Jefferson as a money-hungry politician who freely took money, hundreds of thousands, from business interests. Jefferson was also videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor, who, incidentally, was wearing an FBI wire. At a DC restaurant, Jefferson and the wired-up investor, Lori Mody, were discussing kickbacks and bribery, and exchanging notes about their transactions. "All these damn notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking as if the FBI is watching." They were, Bill. [For other notable quotes from other BadBoys, click here].
The FBI raid on a congressional office, however, has stirred up a lot of bipartisan anger in the House. Both Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have demanded that the FBI hand back to Congress the stuff that its agents took from Jefferson's office.
Update: June 15, 2006: House Democrats voted 99-58 to strip Jefferson of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson cried foul, saying he hadn't been charged of anything, and many from the Congressional Black Caucus protested that Jefferson was being singled out for unfair treatment (Allan Mollohan hadn't been treated that way, for example). Was Nancy Pelosi being too rough on Jefferson. No way, she said: "I told all my colleagues, anybody with $90,000 in their freezer, you have a problem at that point." Then, the next day, the full House took the same action, by a unanimous vote.
Update: September 9, 2006: Louisville businessman Vernon L. Jackson was sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison for bribing Jefferson with more than $400,000 and company stock to promote his Kentucky firm, iGate Inc., high-tech business ventures. (Jefferson continues to maintain his innocence).
Ah, democracy! Despite all the charges, the $90k in the freezer, and the crooks already convicted, the good folks of Louisiana have put their trust and confidence in the Honorable William Jefferson and re-elected him to another term in Congress.
Update: Dec. 14, 2006: Jefferson kicked off powerful
Ways and Means Committee, given consolation prize of
Small Business Committee, way, way, down
the pecking order of power.
Update: June 4, 2007: Jefferson slapped with a 16-count indictment claiming, among other things, that he accepted $500,000 in bribes. Washington Post said this: the indictment is "staggering in the scope and audacity of the bribery schemes it portrays Mr. Jefferson as having peddled. Pretty international in scope, too: bribery in Nigeria, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Botswana, Sao Tome and Principe.
Update: June 8: Okay, it's a 94-page indictment, detailing 11 separate bribery schemes, and 16 criminal counts, with a possible 235 years in the federal can--but Jefferson says he ain't guilty. But what about all that cash in your freezer?
Update: Aug. 4, 2007: A federal appeals court ruled that the FBI went too far in its search of "Cold Cash" Jefferson's congressional office. The court didn't block future searches of his (or any other) congressional offices, and did not say that the material seized had to be returned. In July 2006, a lower court said the raid was okay.
Update: Sept. 8, 2007: Jefferson whips out the race card. Again says he did nothing wrong and that he wants the case against him taken out of Virginia because there wouldn't be enough black jurors. Move it to D.C., says Jefferson.
Update: Nov. 18, 2007: Federal prosecutors accused Jefferson of soliciting bribes in two alleged schemes that hadn't been disclosed earlier: (1) in 2002, Jefferson allegedly asked a lobbyist for a U.S. oil service company for $10,000 a month for a family member in exchange for Jefferson's promoting business in Africa. The lobbyist turned down Jefferson's request. (2) Jefferson allegedly agreed to urge NASA to do business with a rocket technology company. In return, the company allegedly agreed to pay Jefferson's family business and a relative.
Update: January 18, 2008: Jefferson testified in open court for the first time, and argued that he was coerced and not read his Miranda rights. He charged that the FBI was using intimidating tactics.
Update: June 20, 2008: Sister Betty Jefferson, brother Mose Jefferson, and their daughter Angela Coleman have all plead not guilty to charges that they stole more than $600,000 from money earmarked for charity. But the plot thickens: Brenda Jefferson, another relative, pleaded guilty to helping conceal the alleged scheme. A trial date is set for December. Meanwhile, the Honorable William Jefferson has decided to run for re-election. Well, why not?
Update: Sept. 25, 2008: In Richmond, Va., attorneys for Jefferson say nearly all the corruption charges should be dropped. Why? Because prosecutors improperly presented evidence of his legislative activities to a grand jury. They violated the "speech and debate" clause of the Constitution, says the lawyers. A federal judge ruled against Jefferson when he made this argument earlier, now he's trying to convince the federal court of appeals. This is what the federal judge in the early decision said: "Put simply, the Speech and Debate Clause is not a license to commit a crime." Ouch!
Update: Nov. 19: Election day came and went, and Jefferson's still in office. He'll face a Republican Joseph Cao in a December 6 runoff. Meanwhile, he goes on trial during that same first week in December.
Update: Dec. 6, 2008: Jefferson is defeated for another term in Congress by Anh "Joseph" Cao, a Vietnamese-American Republican. Cao received 49.5 percent to Jefferson's 47 percent of the vote.
Update: May 19, 2009: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Jefferson to dismiss the corruption charges filed against him.
Update: June 16, 2009: Federal trial began today on 16 counts of bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. Prosecutors: Jefferson was living beyond his means, and was desperate for money. Defense: Jefferson is the victim of an FBI sting operation. To be continued . . .
Update: August 6, 2009: Jefferson was conviction of corruption charges by a federal jury. He was convicted of 11 counts out of 16 brought against him of using his office as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself, by soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support business ventures in Africa. He was acquitted of three wire fraud count, obstruction of justice, and violating a law barring the bribing of foreign officials. He'll be sentenced in late October, and faces up to 150 years in prison.
Defense lawyers said Jefferson was "stupid" and displayed "awful judgment" in accepting bribes in agreeing to make a payoff to a Nigerian official, but that it hadn't been a crime. Jefferson's lawyers were confident that he would be exonerated on appeal. Yeah.
Update: Aug. 31, 2009: Jefferson and his wife file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A federal court ruled that Jefferson could be liable to forfeit nearly $500,000 in bribe money. Under Chapter 7, all of the debtor's assets (estimated at $1 to $10 million) are sold to pay creditors in a formula approved by the court. Some property, however is exempt from this formula. Twenty creditors, starting with his lawyers, are already lined up to collect.
Sources: Matthew Barakat, "Ex-Political Aide Pleads Guilty to Bribery," Washington Post, Jan. 11, 2006; "Six Hill Aides Subpoenaed in Jefferson Investigation," Washington Post, March 31, 2006, A12. Allan Lengel, "Businessman Pleads Guilty to Bribing Rep. Jefferson," Washington Post, May 4, 2004, A1. Allan Lengel, "Va. Woman Wore a Wire in Rep. Jefferson Inquiry," Washington Post, May 9, 2006, A3. "La. Congressman Won't Resign Amid Scandal," Washington Post, May 16, 2006, A11. Allan Lengel and Martin Weil, "FBI Searches Congressional Office of Louisiana Lawmaker," Washington Post, May 21, 2006, A11. Allan Lengel, "FBI Says Jefferson Was Filmed Taking Cash," Washington Post, May 22, 2006, A1; Shailagh Murray, "Party Urges Jefferson to Leave Committee," Washington Post, June 16, 2006, A4. Allan Lengel, "FBI Search of Jefferson's Office Constitutional, Judge Rules," Washington Post, July 11, 2006, A4. Allan Lengel, "Businessman Gets 7 Years for Bribing Legislator," Washington Post, Sept. 9, 2006, A8. Bill Walsh, "Pelosi Assigns Jefferson to New Committee Post," New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 14, 2006, 7. "Mr. Jefferson Indicted," Washington Post, June 5, 2007. Allen Lengel, "Rep. Jefferson Wins Ruling Against FBI," Washington Post, Aug. 4, 2007, A1. Allan Lengel, "Jefferson Wants Bribery Case Moved to D.C.," Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2007, A2. Susan Crabtree, "Jefferson Takes the Stand," The Hill, Jan. 18, 2008. "Lawmaker's Relatives Plead Not Guilty," Washington Post, June 21, 2008. Jerry Markon, "Lawmaker Asks Court to Dismiss Charges," Washington Post, Sept. 25, 2008, A8. Wiliam Brannigan, "High Court Refuses to Hear Jefferson Appeal," Washington Post, May 198, 2009. Allison Klein, "Ex-Rep. Jefferson's Ethics Not on Trial, Defense Says," Washington Post, June 17, 2009, A2. Frank Donze, "Former Rep. William Jefferson, wife file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy," New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aug. 31, 2009