Congressman William Jefferson has a knack for attracting the wrong kinds of people with money. That skill earned him a high-profile federal indictment a year and a half ago. The Louisiana Democrat is going to need his friends, too, which include labor chieftains, when he goes on trial in Alexandria, Virginia early next year. Voters in his New Orleans district also are showing their loyalty. This November they handed him a runoff victory over his rival, Helena Moreno, in the Democratic primary. And they’re overwhelmingly likely to return him to Congress when he faces Republican challenger Anh Cao in the December 6 general election, which, like the primary, is being held late due to Hurricane Gustav. The man’s been leading a charmed life – at least if one ignores the possibility of a prison sentence of up to 235 years.
Back in June 2007 a federal grand jury indicted Rep. Jefferson on 16 counts of bribe solicitation on behalf of himself and family members, racketeering, wire fraud and other felony charges. The indictments followed FBI raids on his home in 2005 and his Congressional offices in 2006. What generated by far the most headlines, not to mention late-night TV one-liners, was the residential raid’s discovery and seizure of $90,000 in cash wrapped in foil in his kitchen freezer. Less known are the sources of these and other funds. Jefferson, by official accounts, took bribes totaling anywhere from $400,000 and $1 million from a now-convicted Kentucky-based businessman in exchange for facilitating deals in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. The FBI says it videotaped him on July 30, 2005 accepting $100,000 in $100 bills stuffed inside a leather briefcase from an informant, Lori Mody, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Arlington, Va. All this adds up to the high likelihood that Mr. Jefferson, a Harvard-trained lawyer first elected to his seat in 1990, is a crook.
Jefferson from the outset has proclaimed his innocence. Apparently, a number of persons, especially Capitol Hill colleagues fearful of the implications of a first-time-ever FBI raid on a lawmaker’s office, also would like to see him exonerated. And they’re putting their money where their mouths are. Since his indictment, Jefferson has raised more than $250,000 in political donations. Accounting for a large part of that figure are fellow blacks in Congress acting either as political action committee chairmen or individual members. Secure PAC, headed by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has given Jefferson at least $14,000. Bridge PAC, controlled by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., also has kicked in a pair of donations totaling $10,000. Individual donors also include: Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. ($5,000); Donald Payne, D-N.J. ($2,000); Kendrick Meek, D-Fla. ($2,000); and Diane Watson, D-Calif. ($1,000). The Congressional Black Caucus PAC also has contributed an undisclosed sum.
Organized labor also is raising money. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America have donated a respective $10,000 and $5,000. The motives might be hard to fathom, but remember, both unions have been aggressive in trying to generate union jobs as part of the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans. Bill Jefferson appears to be an ideal go-to guy.
William Jefferson isn’t the first politician to make a side income smoothing the way for business deals. But that’s hardly a defense. Evidence points toward a guilty verdict in the event he carries the case to trial. In January 2006, McLean, Va.-based entrepreneur Brett Pfeffer, a former aide to the congressman, pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in connection with a broadband Internet startup in Nigeria. He’s now cooperating with prosecutors. Four months later, Vernon Jackson, CEO of the Louisville, Ky.-based iGate Inc., pleaded guilty to bribing an unnamed member of Congress; court documents clearly point to Jefferson as the co-conspirator. It’s hard to see how he’ll mount an effective challenge to the evidence. Serial numbers on the $90,000 in U.S. Treasury bills found in his freezer, for example, matched the serial numbers on bills that the FBI gave to its informant. It strains the imagination to believe this can be a coincidence. But at least some union officials do believe in miracles. (Washington Times, 11/27/08; other sources).