- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

UPDATED:

A jury convicted former Rep. William J. Jefferson on 11 of 16 federal corruption charges Wednesday after deliberating for five days, though it acquitted him on the one count directly related to the notorious $90,000 in the freezer.

The Louisiana Democrat was acquitted on three counts of theft of honest services, and one count each of obstruction of justice and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — the last of which was the charge involving the freezer money, which FBI agents found in Jefferson’s Capitol Hill home and which authorities said was intended to bribe the vice president of Nigeria.

Nevertheless, the Louisiana Democrat still faces decades in prison.

Jefferson, who lost a re-election bid last year after serving nine terms, was convicted instead of 11 corruption-related counts, taking bribes in exchange for helping American businesspeople involved in oil, sugar and telecommunications ventures gain access to West African countries. Jefferson tried to conceal the bribes through shell companies and sham consulting agreements, prosecutors said.

Most of the eight weeks the trial took at federal court in Alexandria involved the government presenting its case; the defense took less than a day to cast credibility on a couple of witnesses by rebutting a couple of details.

Prosecutors accused Jefferson of hiding bribes by funneling money disguised as consulting fees through sham companies controlled by his wife and brother. Jefferson was heard explaining in one recording, played by his attorneys, that avoiding the appearance of impropriety requires that his name not appear on any deals.

Jefferson’s lawyers argued that the companies and consulting contracts were legitimate and the New Orleans Democrat was simply helping his family in arrangements that may have been ethically dubious, but weren’t criminal.

But ironically, it’s the cold, hard cash that people likely will remember best. Prosecutors said Jefferson took the freezer cash from an FBI informant and planned to use the money to bribe the then-vice president of Nigeria to help secure a telecommunications contract.

Defense attorneys said their client never intended to bribe Vice President Atiku Abubakar and simply took the money to placate an overaggressive FBI informant, whom they described as emotionally unstable.

During the trial, prosecutors played audio and video recordings of conversations between Jefferson and Lori Mody, a Northern Virginia businesswoman who had been involved in the venture to win the telecommunications contract in Nigeria, but went to the FBI after becoming suspicious about the entire arrangement. In one video from July 30, 2005, Ms. Mody, who was wearing a wire for the FBI, gave Jefferson a briefcase containing $100,000. The exchange took place outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pentagon City.

“I hope that’s exactly what the vice president needs to make him work hard for us,” Ms. Mody said at one point during the recording.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jefferson responds as he walks off with the briefcase.

Authorities say most of that money was found in Jefferson’s freezer a few days later.

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