WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Former Congressional Black Caucus member William Jefferson (D-La.)–who was famously accused of hiding $90,000 in marked bills he was paid by a government informant in the freezer in his home, was convicted of corruption charges Aug. 5 in a courtroom in nearby Alexandria, Va.
Jurors found that Mr. Jefferson used his congressional office as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself, soliciting and taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support his business ventures in Africa. He was convicted of 11 of 16 counts that included solicitation of bribery, racketeering and money laundering.
The conviction finalized a months-long investigation, and leaves the former co-chairman of congressional caucuses on Nigeria and African trade, who in 1990 became the first Black congressman elected in Louisiana since Reconstruction, facing up to 150 years in prison when he is sentenced in late October.
Mr. Jefferson declined to comment on the verdict, saying only that he is “holding up” before walking off with his wife and family members. His attorney, Robert P. Trout, told reporters he will appeal. “Obviously, we’re very disappointed about the verdict,” said Mr. Trout. “We believe we have very strong legal issues” on appeal, he said.
The conviction represents “just another corrupt Louisiana politician,” rather than a more profound message about race, according to Dr. David Bositis, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “There are certain kinds of scenarios,” Dr. Bositis told The Final Call. “Do you remember Mel Reynolds?
“Everybody in Chicago–The Establishment, including the Daleys–were perfectly happy with Mel Reynolds. They didn’t have any issues with him, and the prosecutors weren’t looking to go after him. But when an underage girl calls and says she’s been having an affair with him, they can’t ignore it.
“Obviously, finding a stack of $100 bills, or whatever they were in his freezer, that’s one of those things where you can’t ignore it,” said Dr. Bositis.
The prosecutors said justice was served by Mr. Jefferson’s conviction. Mr. Jefferson violated “his compact with the people of Louisiana. … He used his influence and his power to enrich himself and his family. This case shows that no person, not even a congressman, is above the law,” U.S. Attorney Dana Boente told reporters shortly after the conviction.
Response to the conviction was muted on Capitol Hill. “It is a sad day for (Mr. Jefferson’s) family but no one is above the law,” Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Washington Post.
Prosecutors played videotapes showing Mr. Jefferson meeting with a business associate-turned-FBI informant, who gave him $100,000 in marked bills to bribe a Nigerian official. It was never delivered, prosecutors said, because the FBI found it first.
During the trial, defense attorneys conceded that Mr. Jefferson had been “stupid” and shown “awful judgment” in agreeing to make the payoff to the Nigerian official but that he had not committed a crime. The defense only presented two witnesses, arguing Mr. Jefferson’s business dealings might have been unethical but were not criminal because they were not part of his official congressional duties. They said the government had tried to stretch what amounted to congressional ethics violations into criminal acts.
The jury deliberated five days before voting to convict Mr. Jefferson.