- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Former Rep. William J. Jefferson may have skated on the charges directly related to the cash found in his freezer, but he still faces a financial deep freeze.

The same jury that convicted the Louisiana Democrat of 11 of 16 corruption charges decided Thursday that he should forfeit $470,653 he collected from his illegal schemes. The jury also said the government should seize stock shares of indeterminate value that Jefferson also received as bribes.

Judge T.S. Ellis III will issue a final forfeiture order when he sentences Jefferson. The judge scheduled the sentencing hearing for Oct. 30.

In most bribery and racketeering cases that produce guilty verdicts, forfeiture issues are decided directly by the judge. But the Jefferson legal team chose to exercise its legal right to have a jury hear the issue.

When asked why the Jefferson team made the unusual move of requesting a jury to hear the forfeiture case, lawyer Robert Trout said without elaboration, “We believe in the jury system.”

The case took less than the whole morning session Thursday to hear. The jury reached its decision, which is a recommendation that does not bind Judge Ellis, before the end of the afternoon.

Jefferson, 62, faces up to 150 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines will undoubtedly call for a far shorter sentence. Prosecutors have said the guidelines could suggest a prison term of more than 20 years.

The jury of eight women and four men convicted Jefferson, a nine-term congressman who lost re-election last year, of bribery, money laundering and racketeering.

During an eight-week trial in federal court in Alexandria, prosecutors said Jefferson took bribes from American companies involved in sugar, oil and telecommunications that wanted to do business in western Africa, where Mr. Jefferson had deep ties. Jefferson made use of “sham, bogus companies designed simply to receive bribes,” assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle said.

In an ironic twist, however, Jefferson was acquitted of the charge that stemmed from the case’s most notorious detail: the $90,000 found in the freezer of his Capitol Hill home in 2005.

Mr. Jefferson was accused of taking the cash as part of an agreement to bribe the vice president of Nigeria. But he never gave the money to Atiku Abubakar, and the defense argued that Jefferson never planned to make the bribe. In the end, the jury acquitted Jefferson of the charge related to that allegation. Had it not, Jefferson would have been the first U.S. lawmaker convicted of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

But the jury also decided that Jefferson was guilty of plenty else.

On Thursday, it said Mr. Jefferson it should forfeit bribes he received separately from Lori Mody, a Northern Virginia businesswoman who became an FBI informant, and Vernon Jackson, who pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson and testified against him.

Jefferson also received stock shares from companies owned by Jackson and Ms. Mody, who were both involved in a telecommunications venture for Nigeria.

As part of her work as an FBI informant, Ms. Mody gave Mr. Jefferson the money that was supposed to be used to bribe Mr. Abubakar to help make sure their business venture was successful. But Jefferson never did so and most of the money was later found in his freezer.

The jury left the courthouse Thursday without speaking to reporters. Judge Ellis had asked them not to speak to the media, though he made clear they were not under any court order.

The judge said he is “disturbed” when he sees jurors appearing in the media and he worries that it could compromise the integrity of future deliberations of other juries.

• Ben Conery can be reached at bconery@washingtontimes.com.

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