Former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was convicted yesterday on an assortment of bribery related charges. He faces a maximum sentence of 150 years in prison and forfeiture of almost half a million dollars plus stock certificates. His lawyer says he will appeal the decision.
The 11 charges on which Jefferson was convicted included solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering and conspiracy. "Honest services fraud" is when an employee fraudulently deprives his employer of the employer's right to honest services. For public officials, this means denying their constituents the right to honest services by their elected or appointed officials. The "wire" part of any fraud charge simply means utilizing electronic communications to further the fraudulent scheme.
Jefferson was acquitted of three other counts of honest services wire fraud, an obstruction of justice charge and of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FRCPA).
The FRCPA basically forbids the bribing of foreign officials. Though he was acquitted of violating it, as reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jefferson's case will always be remembered for the $90,00 in cash found in his freezer in 2005, and that money was where feds thought they had him on an FRCPA charge.
The $90,000 was from $100,000 given to Jefferson by a Virginia businesswoman who wanted him to bribe the then Vice President of Nigeria in order to facilitate a telecommunications deal. Though it proved to be the prosecution's most attention-getting piece of evidence, the cash from the freezer did not lead to a FRCPA conviction because the bribe didn't get to the foreign official, and there was no evidence of an actual offer from Jefferson to the Nigerian Vice President.
According to the DOJ's press release, it was proved at trial that in exchange for bribes, Jefferson
- headed up official business delegations to Africa;
- corresponded with U.S. and foreign government officials; and
- utilized congressional staff members to promote businesses and businesspersons.
Federal prosecutors argued at trial that for bribes, Jefferson sought to promote telecommunications deals in Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere, oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea, satellite contracts in Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo, and development of various plants and facilities in Nigeria.
- Why You Should Pay Attention to the William Jefferson Trial (Wall Street Journal Law Blog)
- Jefferson Conviction Is Bittersweet For Justice Dept. (NPR)
- The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (US DOJ)
- Crim Defense Overview (provided by Martens Law Office PLLC)
- Consitutional Protections for Criminal Defendants (provided by Michael K Allen & Associates)