Jefferson Found Guilty of Bribery and Racketeering

Posted August 5, 2009 at 4:50pm

Updated: 6:08 p.m.A federal jury declared ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) guilty Wednesday of 11 criminal charges in a bribery scheme.Jefferson was found guilty of conspiracy to solicit bribes, money laundering, wire fraud and a pattern of racketeering activity.The jury found him not guilty on five charges, including obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.Jefferson has not yet been sentenced, but the charges could carry more than 100 years in prison.The verdict followed a trial that lasted more than seven weeks and comes more than two years after Jefferson was first indicted on 16 counts of violating federal laws.Federal prosecutors, aided by witnesses — including two serving jail terms after pleading guilty to bribing Jefferson — and FBI wiretaps, argued that the former Congressman used a complex web of business deals to solicit bribes and skirt public scrutiny as he abused his Congressional office for personal gain.In particular, the prosecution accused Jefferson of arranging and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes funneled through “sham— consulting firms owned by his family members in exchange for his help promoting business ventures in West African nations.In his defense, Jefferson’s attorneys repeatedly attacked the FBI as overzealous and accused the Justice Department of stretching the law to fit its case.During both his opening and closing statements, lead defense attorney Robert Trout also stressed to jurors that Jefferson did not break any laws, even if his actions might have violated House rules.“There is a difference between a gray area and committing a crime,— Trout said during his closing argument.During the trial, which began June 9, photographs of $90,000 in cash FBI agents seized from a freezer during a 2005 raid of Jefferson’s home remained prominent.The defense sought to downplay the photographs, which showed stacks of bills wrapped in tinfoil and hidden in various frozen food boxes, asserting Jefferson kept the funds because he had never intended to use the cash to bribe a top-ranking Nigerian official, as alleged in the indictment. The money was given to Jefferson by an FBI informant, Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody, who played a key role in recording her conversations with Jefferson but did not testify at the trial.Paul Singer contributed to this report.