Jefferson Indicted on 16 Counts of Bribery, Corruption

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was indicted Monday on 16 counts as part of a long-running bribery investigation, including charges of racketeering, soliciting bribes and money laundering, federal officials said.

The indictment handed up by a federal court in Alexandria., Va., is 94 pages long and lists alleged violations of federal law that could keep Jefferson in prison for up to 235 years.

The investigation of Jefferson centered on accusations of bribery by accepting $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman, allegedly to be used to bribe Nigerian officials. FBI officials said they videotaped the congressman taking the cash and later found the $90,000 in a box in the freezer of his Louisiana home in August 2005.

Two of his associates have already reached plea bargains and have been sentenced.

Former congressional aide Brett Pfeffer admitted soliciting bribes on the congressman's behalf and was ordered to spend eight years behind bars.

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.

The charges listed in the indictment include:

* In 2001, after having assisted Jackson, Jefferson informed Jackson that he would no longer continue to use his official position as a U.S. congressman to promote iGate's business unless payments were made to a Jefferson family-controlled business.

That payment was to include a monthly payment of $7,500; 5 percent of iGate's gross sales plus certain capital raised; and options for up to one million shares of iGate stock.

iGate agreed to the arrangement, and during the following year, Jefferson set up a meeting between Jackson and a "prominent member" of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection.

* In 2003, Jefferson promoted iGate's services to Nigerian businessmen and, without Jackson's knowledge, solicited fees estimated to be worth $1 million, as well as a percentage of revenue and stock from the same company partners.

* In 2004, Jefferson filed with the House Clerk a travel form in connection with a trip to Africa during which he promoted iGate and its business ventures to government officials in Nigeria and Cameroon.

He acknowledged that the travel was connected to his duties as a House member but failed to disclose his and his family's financial interests in the discussions.

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Jefferson made headlines in 2005 when National Guard troops escorted him to his flooded home in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, then waited around for him to remove his personal belongings - even as life-and-death rescue efforts were going on all around him.

As a result, the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) added the Louisiana Democrat to its "most tainted Members of Congress" list.

In January 2006, a Cybercast News Service investigation uncovered a possible conflict of interest between Jefferson, who at the time was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and a group that received a $290,000 grant to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Two months later, Jefferson was the beneficiary of a fund-raiser held at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) despite the fact that he was being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department.

That May, DNC Chairman Howard Dean said there was no comparison between the ethical problems faced by Jefferson and what he termed the Republican "culture of corruption" in the nation's capital.

As the 2006 election neared, Jefferson was forced to step down from his seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee, but a political analyst told Cybercast News Service that being perceived as an embattled Louisiana politician might actually benefit Jefferson.

Despite having to take part in a run-off election that fall, Jefferson was sent back to Washington for a ninth term in Congress in December.

Early reaction to Monday's indictment followed party lines, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that "the charges in the indictment against Congressman Jefferson are extremely serious."

"As we have demonstrated in implementing tough ethics reforms and passing tough lobbying reforms already this year, Democrats are committed to upholding a high ethical standard and eliminating corruption and unethical behavior from the Congress," she said.

However, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that he would introduce a resolution to instruct the chamber's ethics panel to review the evidence in the allegation and report within 30 days on whether he should be expelled from the House.

"If the charges against Congressman Jefferson are true, he should be expelled from the House of Representatives, or he should resign to spare his constituents and colleagues any further indignity," Boehner said in a statement.

"If my Democratic colleagues are serious about holding all lawmakers to the highest standards of ethical conduct, they will support the Republican effort to remove Congressman Jefferson from his seat on the Small Business Committee and to refer the matter of his indictment on bribery, racketeering and money-laundering charges to the House Ethics Committee for quick resolution," he stated.

"The American people rightfully expect the highest ethical standards from their elected leaders, and I urge Democrats to join our effort to force the Ethics Committee to do its work in the wake of Congressman Jefferson's indictment," Boehner added.

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