The sad, embarrassing saga of William “Dollar Bill/Cold Cash” Jefferson came to its ignominious end yesterday in a federal court in Louisiana. The former Congressman, who kept $90,000 in his freezer and once diverted emergency-response resources during Hurricane Katrina to evacuate himself, will serve 13 years in prison for corruption. The judge cut in half the recommended sentence from prosecutors, but still wound up with a longer sentence than most former Representatives:
Former Rep. William Jefferson was sentenced Friday to serve 13 years in prison for what the lead prosecutor described as “the most extensive and pervasive pattern of corruption in the history of Congress.”
While the sentence by federal Judge T.S. Ellis III fell well short of the 27 to 33 years recommended by the government, it is by the far the stiffest jail term ever imposed on a member or former member of Congress for crimes committed while in office.
Jefferson, 62, was found guilty Aug. 6 on 11 charges, including soliciting bribes, depriving citizens of honest service, money laundering and using his office as a racketeering enterprise.
He was acquitted of five other charges in a case that famously featured the revelation that he had hidden $90,000 in the freezer of his home, marked bills from the FBI that prosecutors said was going to be used as a bribe.
This case provided plenty of embarrassment for everyone, including Republicans. Both Denny Hastert and Nancy Pelosi fought to keep the FBI from keeping evidence seized from Jefferson’s office, even though the FBI had a search warrant authorized by a federal judge. They claimed that the House had jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute corruption on Capitol Hill. How did Pelosi do that? By allowing Jefferson to have committee assignments and taking no action against him, even when evidence of his corruption proved inarguable.
Jefferson lost his New Orleans seat to Anh “Joseph” Cao, a liberal Republican who backed Pelosi on health care but still voted with the GOP around 75% of the time, according to Cao’s office. If nothing else, it would appear that New Orleans upgraded the position in terms of ethics.
Usually, defendants convicted and sentenced in federal court must serve about 85% of their time before being considered for parole. That would be around 11 years for Jefferson, who got the record sentence for a Congressman convicted of corruption. He has not yet started doing his time; his attorney successfully kept Jefferson out of custody pending a hearing on extending his bail while he appeals. Failing that, his attorney argued for a January 4th surrender date in order to allow Jefferson to spend time with his family for the holidays.
That question will be answered on Wednesday, and we can expect that bail will be revoked, as is the norm in federal court. As far as the surrender date goes, that request may be granted if the judge doesn’t deem Jefferson a flight risk. It seems a little difficult to imagine that a judge will trust someone to keep their word to do their time after taking bribes and selling out their office.