Jefferson Pleads Not Guilty on 16 Counts in Bribery Case

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) Friday pleaded not guilty to all 16 counts of soliciting bribes, racketeering, money laundering, fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

A trial date was set for Jan. 16, 2008, and U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis ordered the congressman to surrender his passport and pay a $100,000 bond. Jefferson was allowed to travel unrestricted between Washington, D.C., and Louisiana, but he must get the judge's approval to travel elsewhere. He waived his right to a speedy trial.

"I am absolutely innocent," Jefferson said after his court appearance, adding, "I'm going to fight my heart out to clear my name." He also spoke about his family and said he is committed to continuing to represent the people of Louisiana. Jefferson urged the American people to keep an open mind until all the facts are on the table.

The judge also denied Jefferson access to shotguns and rifles in his Louisiana home, which the congressman said he uses for hunting.

Prosecutor Mark Lytle said it could take up to a month for the prosecution to present the case, citing eight file cabinets full of evidence and extensive tape recordings that the government has gathered.

Jefferson's attorney, Robert Trout, said the complexity of the case was the reason Jefferson waived his right to a speedy trial. "This has been investigated for two years," Trout said. The congressman faces a possible maximum sentence of 235 years.

Jefferson is the first sitting congressman charged under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from bribing foreign officials.

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, 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 $90,000 of the total in a box in the freezer of his Louisiana home in August 2005.

He also 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.

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