U.S. Congressman William Jefferson faces 16-count indictment for corruption

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Representative William J. Jefferson of Louisiana's 2nd congressional district.

In a press release Monday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) detailed a federal grand jury indictment against Congressman William Jefferson on charges that included bribery, racketeering, and money laundering, among others.

The grand jury out of Alexandria, Virginia, charged Jefferson specifically with "solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, racketeering, and conspiracy." The indictment stems from corruption that is alleged to have taken place between August 2000 and August 2005.

Representative Jefferson, 63, a Democrat from Louisiana, is alleged to have "used his position and his office to corruptly seek, solicit and direct that things of value be paid to Jefferson and his family members in exchange for his performance of official acts to advance the interests of people and businesses who offered him the bribes." Jefferson has represented Louisiana's 2nd congressional district since 1991.

The FBI was involved in the investigation, which culminated in a raid on Representative Jefferson's congressional office in May, 2006. "The FBI has made combating public corruption its top criminal investigative priority because American citizens deserve honest and ethical public officials representing their interest,” said Kenneth W. Kaiser, Assistant Director, FBI Criminal Investigative Division. “As it is alleged, Congressman Jefferson violated the public’s trust and used his official position and office as a RICO enterprise to corruptly solicit bribes, to pay off a foreign official, and to illegally benefit from overseas business transactions during a five-year period."

A complex series of transactions was alleged to have taken place, involving Jefferson and at least two other co-conspirators. Along with Jefferson, Vernon L. Jackson, a Louisville, Kentucky businessman, and Brett M. Pfeffer, a former Jefferson congressional staff member, "allegedly discussed and solicited bribes in return for being influenced in the performance of certain official acts, including receiving things of value from iGate [Inc.], Jackson’s company."

Jackson plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and the payment of bribes to a public official, and was sentenced to 87 months in prison. Pfeffer plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the solicitation of bribes by a member of Congress, and was sentenced to 96 months in prison.

Also detailed in the indictment, Jefferson allegedly offered payments to a foreign official to further his own business interest as well as that of his family. Jefferson was allegedly responsible for "negotiating, offering and delivering payments of bribes" to Nigerian officials. In an August 2005 raid on Jefferson's home in Washington, D.C., law enforcement officials found US$90,000 cash from an undercover operation in his freezer. The cash had been wrapped in aluminum foil and hidden inside frozen food containers.

Representative Jefferson has not responded directly to the indictment, but his lawyer, Robert Trout, stated that his client was innocent and would "fight this indictment and clear his name.” Acknowledging the comprehensive investigation carried out against his client, as detailed in the 94-page indictment, Trout pointed out that legislative action was not involved. “There is no suggestion that he promised anyone any appropriations,” said Trout. “There were no earmarks. There were no government contracts.”

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi expressed some concern over the allegations. "The charges in the indictment against Congressman Jefferson are extremely serious,” said Pelosi. “While Mr. Jefferson, just as any other citizen, must be considered innocent until proven guilty, if these charges are proven true, they constitute an egregious and unacceptable abuse of public trust and power.”

If found guilty of the charges ultimately, Representative Jefferson faces a maximum sentence of 235 years.