Ex-congressman Guilty In 'Cold Cash' Corruption


$90,000 Was Discovered In Jefferson's Freezer

August 06, 2009|By Richard Simon | Richard Simon,Tribune Newspapers

WASHINGTON - -Former Rep. William J. Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat who gained national attention after federal agents found $90,000 in his freezer, was convicted Wednesday of political corruption.

Jefferson, 62, was found guilty in federal court in Alexandria, Va., of 11 of 16 criminal counts, including bribery, racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud. He faces more than 20 years in prison.

"We have been reminded today that we are a nation of laws, and not men," said Dana J. Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "It should be a clear signal that no public official - and certainly not a U.S. congressman - can put their office up for sale and betray that office." Jefferson was permitted to remain free until sentencing Oct. 30.

His indictment on graft charges, along with other congressional scandals, gave momentum to the biggest overhaul of ethics rules on Capitol Hill since Watergate.

But it was the finding of cold cash in his freezer freeze that made him a target of late-night TV comics.

Jefferson, a sharecropper's son who attended Harvard Law School and, in 1990, became the first African-American elected to Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction, was accused of soliciting bribes in exchange for using his office to promote business interests in Africa.

Jefferson's attorney could not be reached for comment.

The former New Orleans lawmaker first attracted the attention of federal investigators in 2005 in connection with his role in promoting a technology company seeking to gain a foothold in Africa.

A suspicious investor contacted the FBI and agreed to wear a listening device. According to the indictment, Jefferson told the investor that he would need money to bribe a Nigerian official.

Jefferson received $100,000 in marked bills, according to the indictment. Federal agents found $90,000 of the marked bills, wrapped in aluminum foil, in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington home.

Evidence at trial showed that Jefferson "performed a wide range of official acts in return for things of value, including leading official business delegations to Africa, corresponding with U.S. and foreign government officials, and utilizing congressional staff members to promote businesses and businesspersons," according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Prosecutors said that Jefferson's schemes included telecommunications deals in Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere; oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea; satellite transmission contracts in Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo; and development of different plants and facilities in Nigeria.

The revelation of the cash Jefferson's freezer came at an inopportune time for his fellow Democrats who were working to highlight in the 2008 campaign a "culture of corruption" in the Republican-controlled House.

Even so, Democrats gained the majority, and Jefferson was re-elected to a ninth term before losing his seat in last year's election to Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao, the first Vietnamese American elected to Congress.

The jury is scheduled to convene today to address whether Jefferson will face forfeiture of up to $456,000 plus stock certificates.

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