Jefferson Indicted In Bribery Probe
Rep. William J. Jefferson was indicted today in a longstanding FBI corruption probe centering on allegations that he took bribes to promote high-tech business ventures in Africa.
The Louisiana Democrat faces charges that include racketeering, money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy to solicit bribes by a public official. The 16-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Alexandria.
Federal officials have scheduled a 3:30 p.m. news conference to discuss the 94-page indictment, which could land Jefferson in prison for life if he is convicted on all counts. The charges cap a long and tumultuous investigation that was stalled for months because of a legal battle over the constitutionality of an FBI raid on Jefferson's office last May. The raid came after the FBI found $90,000 in the freezer of his Capitol Hill home.
A political and legal maelstrom followed the raid, prompting President Bush to intervene and seal the seized documents for 45 days. In July, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who had signed the search warrant, ruled that the raid was constitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the matter.
Jefferson, 60, is a potential political embarrassment for Democrats, just months after they took over control of Congress. Democrats had campaigned last year on the theme that Republicans had created a culture of corruption. In July, the House officially expelled Jefferson from the prestigious Ways and Means Committee.
At the time, then House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the allegations against Jefferson were too egregious to wait for a legal resolution.
"This isn't about proof in the court or law; this is about an ethical standard," she said.
News of the FBI probe hurt Jefferson in his reelection bid last fall, but he managed to win in a runoff, garnering 30 percent of the vote in a crowded primary field of 12 candidates. His campaign ads emphasized that he had not been charged with any crime.
The investigation began in March 2005 when Virginia investor Lori Mody, went to the FBI to complain that Jefferson and her business associate were trying to scam her in a high-tech business venture in Africa in which a copper wire technology would be used to deliver the Internet and cable television.
Mody agreed to wear a listening device for federal authorities, previously issued court documents said.
During an undercover sting, on July 21, 2005, Jefferson told Mody that he needed to give Nigerian Vice President Atikua Abubakar $500,000 "as a motivating factor" to make sure they obtained contracts.
Mody eventually agreed to give Jefferson $100,000 -- in marked bills from the FBI, court records have indicated. A few days later, $90,000 was found in Jefferson's freezer.
Eventually, Mody's business associate Brett Pfeffer and Vernon L. Jackson, the president of iGate, a Louisville based high tech firm, pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson to use his political influence to push through a lucrative contract in Africa to sell technology for the Internet and cable television. Both are serving time in prison.
We are happy to see this come to fruitition. This indictment has been a long time in coming, and we may finally see Rep. Jefferson where he belongs -- in jail. The fact he is a Democrat does give us a giddyfeeling, but more importantly this should get rid of another crooked politician in Washington, DC. We were not pleased to see Duke Cunningham indicted on similar charges in 2005, which prompted him to plead guilty in federal court. His sentence was eight years for breaking the laws, and a standing order to pay $1.8 million in restitution is still in effect.
Rep. Jefferson did far worse, and faces more charges. While we may appreciate Nancy Pelosi talking about cracking down on corruption in the House, but she has not been doing a great job about it. Yes. Rep. Jefferson was tossed from the House Ways and Means committee, but she should have been expelled from the House. Furthermore, the DNC had no problem giving him campaign funds for his reelection. That is not exactly the sort of message to be sending when the man is facing an indictment. And if Ms. Pelosi did not think there was going to be an indictment when the man was in possession of $90,000 in marked bills from the FBI, then she is far more obtuse than we gave her credit for. There was no excuse for that discovery.
As for the Court of Appeals weighing in on the search of his office, it will likely not come. They should let Judge Hogan's decision stand. Rep. Jefferson was not on his way to the floor for a vote, and his office does not possess the immunity enumerated in Article I, Section 6. An argument can be made that the FBI should have notified House leadership about the pending search, but authorities have contended that such a move could have prompted Rep. Jefferson to hide or move evidence they were seeking.
This is how the government deals with corruption of public officials. Now, if they could just crackdown on Congress and end the pork spending, earmarks, and lobbyists that continue to perpetuate this sort of behavior.