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November 13, 2009

Former congressman William Jefferson scheduled to learn sentencing fate today

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "William Jefferson can expect long prison sentence -- but not 27 years, experts say," many are forecasting that a record-setting sentence for a former member of Congress will be handed down today. Here are the particulars:

William Jefferson is facing a lengthy prison sentence from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III on Friday, legal experts say, but probably not the 27 to 33 years recommended by prosecutors.

Jefferson, 62, the New Orleans Democrat who served nine terms in the House of Representatives, is due for sentencing Friday afternoon in the same Alexandria, Va., federal courthouse where he was convicted in August 11 public corruption counts.  The jury acquitted him on five other charges after an eight-week trial.

Those willing to predict a sentence suggest that Jefferson faces something in the range of 10 to 20 years, still the harshest punishment handed down in a congressional corruption case. "The federal government is going to want to make an example of him," said Kevin Tamez, managing partner of a New Jersey firm that specializes in federal sentencing issues. "But I would be shocked if he got anything close to 27 or 33 years."...

Predicting how long a sentence the defendant will get is difficult, especially now that judges are not required to strictly follow federal sentencing guidelines. Ellis appears to have established a floor by imposing stiff prison terms for two men who pleaded guilty in the case.

Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, got eight years for conspiracy to commit bribery. Vernon Jackson, CEO of a Kentucky technology firm who testified that he sent payments to a firm headed by Jefferson's wife in return for the congressman's help landing contracts in Western Africa, was given seven years and three months. 

"This is a hard one because the sentencing guidelines are almost off the charts, in effect a life sentence for Jefferson who is 62," said Harry Rosenberg, a former chief federal prosecutor in New Orleans now in private practice.  Rosenberg said he doesn't expect the judge to along with what the Justice Department wants but believes the sentence will be "significantly longer" than the terms given Jackson and Pfeffer.

But Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor, said that while the Jackson and Pfeffer sentences "are partly the result of lesser culpability, the acceptance of responsibility and cooperation with the government, Mr. Jefferson's sentence should not be grossly disproportionate to theirs."  "Otherwise, his sentence will appear to be a penalty for the exercise of his constitutional right to a fair trial," Ciolino said.

Jefferson should benefit by some calculations used in sentencing such as this being his first criminal offense and the fact that other members of Congress convicted of corruption have received sentences no higher than eight years, four months.  That sentence was given to former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif, after he pleaded guilty to taking bribes to get appropriations in House spending bills for defense contractors. Jefferson's lawyers argue that their client never introduced a bill or sought an earmark, or appropriation in return for the payments alleged by the government.

In a memorandum submitted Thursday, lead prosecutor Mark Lytle and his co-prosecutors disagreed.   "The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant converted his congressional office into criminal racketeering enterprise in which he repeatedly sold his office to business people willing to pay cash, stock and equity interests through which the defendant and his family stood to gain more than $500 million," the prosecutors wrote. "Even the most egregious of the cases cited by the defendant do not involve the potential for payoffs of hundreds of millions of dollars."

UPDATE:  This Reuters piece details the sentencing outcome: "William Jefferson, who hid $90,000 in cash in his freezer, was sentenced on Friday to 13 years in prison for bribery, racketeering and money laundering." 

November 13, 2009 at 08:58 AM | Permalink


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13 years. On the face of it such a sentence seems reasonable.

Although as I've said before I'm not sure corruption even by elected officials that will only effect foreign governments should be a crime. Let those foreign governments prosecute their own corruption.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 13, 2009 9:02:14 PM

I am a stay at home retired former school secretary. Why is the criminal still walking freely at tax payers'sexpense. this man should be be behind bars.

Posted by: Lucy Calamari | Aug 29, 2010 10:19:33 AM

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