Congressman indicted in bribery probe
WASHINGTON – Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., was indicted Monday on federal charges of racketeering, soliciting bribes and money-laundering in a long-running bribery investigation into business deals he tried to broker in Africa.
The indictment handed up in federal court in Alexandria., Va., Monday lists 16 alleged violations of federal law with prison terms totaling as much as 235 years. He is charged with racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Jefferson is accused of soliciting bribes for himself and his family, and also for bribing a Nigerian official.
“The public deserves, and is entitled to expect, that government officials are free from corruption,” Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said.
Almost two years ago, in August 2005, investigators raided Jefferson’s home in Louisiana and found $90,000 in cash stuffed in a box in his freezer.
The 63-year-old Jefferson, whose Louisiana district includes New Orleans, has said little about the case publicly but has maintained his innocence. He was re-elected last year despite the looming investigation.
Jefferson, in Louisiana on Monday, could not immediately be reached for comment. His lawyer was planning an afternoon news conference.
Two of Jefferson’s associates have already struck plea bargains with prosecutors and have been sentenced.
Brett Pfeffer, a former congressional aide, admitted soliciting bribes on Jefferson’s behalf and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Another Jefferson associate, Louisville, Ky., telecommunications executive Vernon Jackson, pleaded guilty to paying between $400,000 and $1 million in bribes to Jefferson in exchange for his assistance securing business deals in Nigeria and other African nations. Jackson was sentenced to more than seven years in prison.
Both Pfeffer and Jackson agreed to cooperate in the case against Jefferson in exchange for their pleas.
The impact of the case has stretched across continents and even roiled presidential politics in Nigeria. According to court records, Jefferson told associates he needed cash to pay bribes to the country’s vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
Abubakar denied the allegations, which figured prominently in that country’s presidential elections in April. He ran for the presidency and finished third.
The indictment does not name Abubakar. But it describes Jefferson’s dealings with an unnamed “Nigerian Official A” who was a high-ranking official in Nigeria’s executive branch who had a spouse in Potomac, Md. One of Abubakar’s wives lived in that Washington suburb.
Court records indicate Jefferson was videotaped taking a $100,000 cash bribe from an FBI informant. Most of that money later turned up in the freezer in Jefferson’s home.
In May 2006, the FBI raided Jefferson’s congressional office, the first such raid on a sitting congressman’s Capitol office. That move sparked a constitutional debate over whether the executive branch stepped over its boundary.
The raid’s legality is still being argued on appeal. House leaders objected to the search, saying it was an unconstitutional intrusion on the lawmaking process. The FBI said the raid was necessary because Jefferson and his legal team had failed to respond to requests for documents.
Some but not all the documents seized in the raid have been turned over Justice Department prosecutors.
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