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November 16, 2009

A final take on a record-setting federal corruption sentence

This Roll Call article, whic is headlined "Jefferson’s Sentence Is a Record-Setter," provides some post-game commentary on this past Friday's federal sentencing of William Jefferson.  Here are a few highlights:

A freezer full of cash made ex-Rep. William Jefferson a national punch line, and a federal judge on Friday made him a record-holder: The 13-year prison sentence given to the Louisiana Democrat is the longest ever handed down to a former Member of Congress....

Ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who pleaded guilty in March 2006 to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors, as well as tax evasion and fraud, is serving an eight-year, four-month sentence in a federal penitentiary in Tucson, Ariz.  Prior to Jefferson’s sentencing, Cunningham had the distinction of receiving the longest prison term for a former lawmaker. He is scheduled to be released in June 2013.

At least three other former House Members have also completed their terms of incarceration in federal prisons in the past year or so, including ex-Reps. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio), Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Frank Ballance (D-N.C.)....

In court documents, [defense lawyers] cited a litany of other previously incarcerated lawmakers, part of an effort to limit Jefferson’s term to no more than 10 years.... [But] federal prosecutors recommended Jefferson receive a prison term of up to 33 years, asserting his “crimes against the people of the United States were exceptional in their sheer number, length, and breadth.”

In addition to all its political dimensions, this case also spotlights the distorting nature of the federal sentencing guidelines and post-Booker sentencing statistics.  Though Jefferson received a record-setting long sentence and is now scheduled to be incarcerated until he turns 75-years-old, his sentence will be recorded as a below-guideline Booker variance in which the judge gave a sentence less than half as long as what was recommended by the guidelines.  In other words, in a post-Booker world with inflated federal sentencing guidelines, even a record-long sentence is coded as very lenient.

November 16, 2009 at 09:33 AM | Permalink


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I would be interested in knowing his actuarial life. This has to be close to a life sentence regardless of it being technically lenient.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 16, 2009 12:59:56 PM

Yes...a virtual life sentence.

Can't help but wonder how this case might have played out (or if it would have become a "case" at all) if Jefferson hadn't gone out of his way to distinguish his payoffs from those routinely taken by all the other bought-and-paid-for members of congress who don't put the money in the freezer.

Posted by: John K | Nov 17, 2009 9:55:53 PM

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