Jurors Consider Fate of Jefferson’s Assets

Posted August 6, 2009 at 12:18pm

After declaring ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) guilty Wednesday of 11 criminal charges including conspiracy to solicit bribes and wire fraud, the same federal jury is now deliberating whether Jefferson will be required to forfeit approximately $478,000 in cash and other valuable assets.

Jurors were instructed Thursday morning to decide whether a link exists between specific assets owned by Jefferson or his family’s businesses and the crimes he is deemed guilty of having committed.

Federal District Judge T.S. Ellis will then decide what becomes of any seized assets, including distribution of the funds.

Federal prosecutors and Jefferson’s defense team offered brief arguments to jurors in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Virginia before the panel recessed to begin its deliberations shortly before noon.

U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle, lead prosecutor in the case, reviewed evidence alleging that Jefferson arranged and accepted bribes from companies seeking his assistance with business in West African nations, receiving funds via two consulting firms owned by members of the ex-lawmaker’s family.

“Not only were they simply not business activities … they were bogus, shams,” Lytle said, and later added: “He was engaged in a public corruption bribe spree.”

Robert Trout, the lead defense attorney, countered that many of the payments received by the consulting firms were in fact the result of legitimate business functions, such as seeking capital investments or other meetings.

“There was genuine activity,” Trout said.

According to court observers, Jefferson’s decision to ask the jury to determine how much money will be forfeited is unusual.

Although defendants in bribery or similar criminal cases must be given the option to allow the jury to decide forfeiture, it is more common for a defendant to waive that right and allow a judge to make a full determination.