Jefferson to Stay Out of Prison Pending Appeal

Posted November 18, 2009 at 6:30pm

Ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) received a temporary reprieve Wednesday when a federal judge ruled the former lawmaker will not have to begin his 13-year prison term while he appeals his conviction.

In a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge T.S. Ellis ruled that the former lawmaker is not a flight risk but said Jefferson will be required to wear a GPS device to monitor his whereabouts.

“In the end, it is true that he is 62 [and] that he has an affinity for Africa,— Ellis said, acknowledging arguments submitted by federal prosecutors, who asserted Jefferson could flee to one of the West African nations where he had Congressional and business relationships. “In any event … he would not be a risk of flight,— Ellis concluded.

Jefferson, who has surrendered his passport to defense attorney Robert Trout, will be restricted to travel within the Eastern District of Louisiana, unless he receives approval from the court to go elsewhere.

Ellis sentenced Jefferson to 13 years in federal prison last week, the longest prison term ever issued to a former House lawmaker.

A federal jury found Jefferson guilty in August of 11 criminal charges, including conspiracy to solicit bribes, money laundering, wire fraud and a pattern of racketeering activity.

Trout indicated Friday that Jefferson will appeal his conviction, a process that could easily last a year in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, although he had yet to file formal notice Wednesday.

Should he ultimately serve the prison term, Ellis agreed Friday to recommend Jefferson serve his sentence at a minimum-security prison camp. According to the Bureau of Prisons Web site, those tend to be open institutions with fewer restrictions and no visible fencing.

The BOP, however, retains the ultimate authority over where Jefferson is sent to serve his term. Because of the length of his prison sentence, BOP officials could opt to send Jefferson instead to a low-security prison, which would be more like a traditional penitentiary surrounded by barbed wire.

During his sentencing hearing last week, Jefferson’s attorneys requested specifically that he be assigned to the federal prison in Pensacola, Fla., where the camp is adjacent to an Air Force base, but Ellis would not commit to a location.

Ellis also ordered Jefferson to forfeit just less than $471,000, which includes $380,000 from his federal retirement plan.

During the Wednesday hearing, Trout dismissed assertions from federal prosecutors that Jefferson may have secret accounts in the United States or overseas based on previous wire transfers that the government had identified in its investigation of Jefferson.

“More than you would be annoyed if he had sizable assets, given the receivable our firm has,— Trout told the judge, referring to the debt that Jefferson owes his law firm, reportedly about $5 million. “I am absolutely confident, your honor, that there is no stash.—