Jefferson Loses Bid to Dismiss Bribery Charges

Posted May 27, 2008 at 3:18pm

A federal court has rejected Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) request to dismiss two counts of bribery in his corruption case.

The 16-count indictment against Jefferson, which was filed in June 2006, alleges that the Louisiana Congressman offered and accepted bribes involving African officials to promote the business of a telecommunications company in Nigeria and Ghana. It includes charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, obstructing justice and racketeering.

But Jefferson could appeal the ruling, likely to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, where one appeal is already pending.

The trial is set to begin Oct. 6, but could be pushed back by a flurry of pretrial motions and rulings.

In September 2007, Jefferson filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requesting that it dismiss the bribery charges on the grounds that the alleged acts did not involve official Congressional duties and therefore did not constitute a violation of the bribery statute.

While the Congressman is charged with two counts of bribery, their dismissal would have had the domino effect of eliminating other charges that are based on it, including counts of conspiracy, money laundering and racketeering.

The court’s denial of Jefferson’s motion, issued on Friday, identifies two criteria that constitute a violation of the bribery statute: The act must be either an official duty or customary practice of the official charged with the violation, and the act must involve or affect a government decision of action.

Jefferson’s attorneys argued that his actions — which allegedly included official travel to Nigeria and Ghana, correspondence and meetings with U.S. and foreign government officials and the use of his Congressional staff to advance the company’s business — did not constitute official acts as defined by the statute.

But the court ruled that official acts are not limited to “acts performed pursuant to responsibilities assigned explicitly by the law.”

“In other words, an official may violate [the bribery statute] even if the acts he performs in return for things of value are not among his statutorily prescribed duties, but are instead those duties of the office established by settled practice,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III wrote in a memorandum explaining the court’s decision.

The court also rejected the defense’s arguments that the alleged actions didn’t break the law because they were not related to a decision Jefferson had the power to make, and because the acts ultimately didn’t involve or affect a government decision or action.

The court ruled in response that the statute does not require proof that the alleged illegal conduct actually affected a government decision or action. The court ruled that the intention to influence government actions through bribery is enough to merit a violation of the statute.

“An official violates [the bribery statute] when he receives things of values in return for being influenced in the performance of duties involving government decisions, whether or not his performance of those duties actually achieves the desired effect on those government decisions,” wrote the judge.

Meanwhile, Jefferson is also awaiting a decision on a pending appeal with the 4th Circuit in which he is arguing that the government’s whole case should be dismissed because the FBI’s May 2006 raid of his legislative offices and subsequent grand jury testimony violated the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, which protects most legislative activities.