A Kentucky businessman who admitted paying more than $400,000 in bribes to Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was sentenced on Friday to 87 months in prison, becoming the second person to receive a lengthy term behind bars in the ongoing corruption probe of the Louisiana Democrat.
Vernon Jackson, chairman and CEO of iGate Inc., of Louisville, Ky., pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery of a public official.
In his plea deal, Jackson said he routed more than $450,000 in payments to Jefferson during a three-year period beginning in early 2001 via a company owned by the lawmaker’s wife and children. In return, Jackson said, Jefferson aided him in trying to obtain telecommunications contracts from the U.S. Army and several African nations, including Nigeria and Ghana.
Jefferson, who has not been charged in the case, has denied any wrongdoing.
Jackson’s lawyers had sought leniency for their client, arguing that he was “a decent and honorable man” with no previous criminal record who had only become caught up in illegal behavior through his dealings with Jefferson.
They also pointed out that Jackson had “accepted full responsibility for his conduct in this case” and “cooperated fully with law enforcement authorities” who are continuing their investigation into Jefferson’s activities.
But Judge T.S. Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia rejected that request and stuck to the recommendations made by the Justice Department.
Ellis called Jackson’s actions “the worst kind of virulent and malignant cancer” that undermines the American public’s trust in their government. “It is difficult ... to overstate the seriousness of that offense,” Ellis said.
Ellis added that the sentence he imposed “must be a beacon to those who would corrupt our public life.”
Earlier this year, Ellis sentenced Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, to eight years behind bars. Pfeffer pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the solicitation of bribes by a Member of Congress.
Robert Trout, Jefferson’s attorney, released a statement following Jackson’s court appearance on Friday, pointing out that his client has not been charged with any crime at this point and blaming the Justice Department for using strong-arm tactics in building a case against the lawmaker.
“Congressman Jefferson knows well the pressure that the Department of Justice can apply once it targets someone for criminal prosecution,” Trout said in his statement. “As Jackson’s plea bargain makes clear, the government has offered powerful inducements to cause Jackson to plead guilty. He has every reason to expect that his sentence will be substantially reduced depending on his testimony against the Congressman.”
The Justice Department could seek a reduction in Jackson’s sentence based upon any testimony he supplies that advances their probe. Any proposed reduction would need to be approved by a federal judge.
Trout added: “Given the unprecedented widespread disclosure of allegations by the government that are aimed at Congressman Jefferson, it is important to remember that the Congressman has not been charged with any crime. Congressman Jefferson has repeatedly stated that he has never during his time as an elected official accepted payment in any form, for the performance of any act or duty.”
On July 30, 2005, FBI agents videotaped Jefferson allegedly accepting $100,000 in marked bills from an informant, which were to be turned over to senior Nigerian official, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the country’s vice president. In a search of Jefferson’s home in Virginia several days later, FBI agents reportedly found $90,000 of the marked cash in Jefferson’s freezer.
On May 20, FBI agents raided Jefferson’s office on Capitol Hill in order to obtain materials and documents that Jefferson had refused to turn over despite being subpoenaed.
A Nigerian newspaper, This Day, reported Thursday that the Justice Department is seeking “documents and information on some government officials/institutions, private companies and individuals in relation to the official acts” by Jefferson as he sought to win a telecom contract for iGate, including details of his relationship with Abubakar. Jefferson allegedly would have received millions of dollars in the profits from any deal between Jackson’s company, iGate, and Nigerian telecom firms.