Former US congressman convicted for corruption

William Jefferson
William Jefferson

Former US representative William Jefferson was convicted of corruption charges yesterday in a case that featured $90,000 stuffed into his freezer and a legal battle over the raid of his Washington, D.C., office that reached the highest levels of the US government.

Federal jurors in Alexandria, Va., found the Louisiana Democrat guilty of using his congressional office and staff to enrich himself and his family, offering and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support business ventures in seven African nations. Jefferson was convicted on 11 of 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, and money laundering.

The verdict in US District Court culminated an investigation that alternately fascinated and horrified much of official Washington. Jefferson in 1990 became the first black congressman elected in Louisiana since Reconstruction and served as cochairman of congressional caucuses on Nigeria and African trade during his nine terms.

The low-key legislator burst into public view in 2005 when the FBI raided his Capitol Hill home and found the $90,000 in bribe money wrapped in foil and stashed in frozen-food boxes. Prosecutors told jurors during the seven-week trial that the money was to secure the vice president of Nigeria’s help with a telecommunications venture. Defense lawyers said Jefferson had been “stupid’’ and shown “awful judgment’’ in agreeing to make the payoff, but he had not committed a crime. The money was never delivered.

Jefferson, 62, could spend the rest of his life in prison. US District Judge T.S. Ellis III allowed him to remain free on bond until his sentencing in October.

Beyond the money in the freezer, the case was best known for the FBI’s May 2006 seizure of Jefferson’s computer hard drive and office files in the Rayburn House Office Building. It was the first time federal agents raided a congressional office.

House leaders asserted that the documents were privileged legislative material not subject to search.

Source: Boston Globe

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