Here’s a breaking news story to tickle your fancy – Bill Jefferson, the former congressman from New Orleans whose bribe-taking landed him a 13-year sentence in federal prison, just secured a release from the judge in his case.
Jefferson’s freezer yielded federal agents $90,000 in cold, hard cash during a 2005 search for some $400,000 in bribe money he generated while misusing his position as co-chair of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Nigeria. Jefferson was shaking down companies from West Africa for cash to promote their business interests in the United States and, not surprisingly, got caught doing it. He was indicted on 16 counts of corruption charges, and convicted on 11 of them.
But seven of the 11 were just tossed by federal judge T.S. Ellis III in a ruling made public today. Ellis said a new sentencing hearing is necessary because of the Bob McDonnell case, in which Ellis says the Supreme Court has subsequently changed what constitutes “an official act” for which a public official can be convicted of bribery. With all but four of the counts on Jefferson dropped, he would have served his time in jail.
Jefferson is still in the federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, which is a rather famous storage bin for washed-up crooked Louisiana Democrat politicians. Oakdale is where Edwin Edwards served a sizable chunk of his sentence there. There’s no indication Jefferson has any romantic plans involving plastic surgery-enhanced pen pals, but then he’s kept a lower profile than Edwards while in stir.
The legal issues in the Jefferson case are interesting, even if the outcome is less severe than many might have hoped for…
Jefferson’s lawyers exhausted their first avenue of appeal, getting one of his convictions removed, but they renewed their efforts full force following the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in the United States v. McDonnell. The case involved former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who had been convicted on a federal bribery charge for accepting gifts from a businessman who was seeking help to promote his company.
Justices ruled that it was difficult to define that what McDonnell did in response to the gifts comprised an “official act.” As a result, the jury in the case could not have determined if there was a “this for that” relationship between the governor and the businessman. Federal prosecutors chose not to retry McDonnell, leading to a flood of new appeals from convicted politicos.
Jefferson’s new appeal was based on the same argument as McDonnell’s, and Ellis agreed with most of its points. The convictions he kept in place were for two counts of conspiracy to solicit bribes and commit wire fraud; one count of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; and one count of conducting and participating in a racketeering enterprise.
So Jefferson will soon be back around, and interestingly enough he’ll be eligible to run for office since there is nothing in federal law which bars convicted felons from running for those offices. Time was, he’d have been barred from running for a local or state seat as well, but the Louisiana prohibition against convicted felons was overturned in the Derrick Shepard case and the constitutional amendment reinstating the ban died in Karen Carter Peterson’s Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee this year.
So that was the end of that. And it ought to be no surprise if Dollar Bill gets the political bug along with his freedom and tries his hand at the state legislature or some other seat in the next couple of years.
Hey, here’s an idea – he ought to run for judge in New Orleans. He’s got as much courtroom experience as any of the contenders and he might even say that since they ultimately only got him on four counts out of 16 he’s less crooked than most.