Three years ago, William Jefferson became the first member of Congress to be charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Two years later, he became the first individual in nearly twenty years to be acquitted of a substantive FCPA charge.
But he was convicted on an FCPA conspiracy count. Now he's asking an appeals court to toss the conviction and order a new trial.
Prosecutors alleged that in 2005, he hid $90,000 in the freezer at his Washington home. It was part of $100,000 provided by the government's cooperating witness and intended, the government said, to be used to bribe a Nigerian official to steer business to firms in which Rep. Jefferson's family had interests.
After an eight-week trial in Alexandria, Virginia last year, a jury acquitted Jefferson of the only substantive FCPA charge he faced. But he was convicted on 11 other counts, including conspiracy to violate the FCPA. He was also found guilty of soliciting and taking bribes, depriving citizens of honest services, money laundering and racketeering, and conspiracy to solicit bribes.
Judge Tim Ellis sentenced Jefferson to thirteen years in prison but freed him pending his appeal to the fourth circuit.
Jefferson's conspiracy count contained three objects: to solicit bribes, to deprive citizens of honest services by wire fraud, and to violate the FCPA. Because the bribery and honest services objects were tainted by erroneous jury instructions, he's arguing, the FCPA-related object was also tainted and should be tossed.
"Count 1 would have to be retried because one of the alleged objects of the conspiracy (violation of the FCPA) involves neither bribery nor honest-services wire fraud," his brief says.
On the rest of the counts, Jefferson says he was acting as a private citizen, while a corruption statute he was convicted under applies only to public acts by elected officials.
We questioned the substantive FCPA count against Jefferson before his trial began. "The money so spectacularly found in the freezer -- it was in the freezer; it was not in the bank account of a foreign official," we said.
Although the cash seemed to prove Jefferson's innocence on the substantive FCPA charge, it was also ideal evidence of his bad intentions as a public servant. That's what made the FCPA count important to the government's case.
Jefferson's appeal isn't expected to be decided until at least the middle of next year.
Download a copy of William Jefferson's brief in his appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dated November 15, 2010 in U.S. v. William J. Jefferson here.