Former Rep. William Jefferson was sentenced today to 13 years in prison for his conviction on 11 counts of public corruption in a case in which he famously hid $90,000 in his freezer.
READ ALSO: BETWEEN ATIKU ABUBAKAR and WILLIAM JEFFERSON
The government said that Jefferson, who received the money from Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody, took the cash with the intentions to bribe to the then vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar. Mody was acting as a cooperating witness and secretly recording her conversations with Jefferson for the FBI.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III delivered the sentence at a packed courtroom in the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va. Prosecutors had asked for 27 to 33 years in prison, while Jefferson’s lawyers said the prison term should be less than 10 years.
Jefferson stood stoically as the sentence was read, showing little emotion.
Ellis said that Jefferson, a New Orleans Democrat who served nine terms in Congress, must surrender at the federal correctional facility ultimately selected for his incarceration by the Bureau of Prisons. The judge has not yet ruled on whether the former congressman would be taken into custody immediately or would remain free for the customary 60 days before reporting to prison.
Ellis also must rule on whether Jefferson can remain free while he pursues his appeal, which will likely take months.
Jefferson, 62, was convicted in the same courtroom Aug. 6 of corruption charges by a 12-member jury. The jury acquitted him of five charges.
Jefferson was given the chance to make a statement, but his attorney said he had advised his client to remain silent because the congressman is appealing his conviction.
Before he pronounced sentence, Ellis took statements from lead prosecutor Mark Lytle and Jefferson’s lead attorney, Robert Trout.
Lytle said that Jefferson’s greed, in demanding millions of dollars in payments and stock to family-owned businesses in return for his help winning potentially lucrative contracts in Western Africa, brought shame to Congress and a long sentence would send a strong message that public corruption won’t be tolerated.
Trout said that Jefferson takes responsibility for his actions, but that not even the government alleges that he sold his office for legislation or appropriations. Trout said Jefferson believed his actions were private and not related to his official duties as a congressman and therefore were not a violation of the federal bribery law.
Even members convicted of selling their office for appropriations have never received a sentence of more than the eight years, four months handed to former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., who pleaded guilty to receiving bribes in return for defense appropriations.
Ellis said he found Jefferson’s conduct “a cancer on the body politic.”
Jefferson was found guilty after an eight-week trial of soliciting bribes, depriving citizens of honest service, money laundering and using his congressional office as a racketeering enterprise. The case was best known for the $90,000 federal agents found hidden in the freezer of Jefferson’s home in Washington, D.C.
The five charges for which he was acquitted included single count of violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — the charge most closely related to the $90,000 found in his freezer. The government said that Jefferson, who received the money from Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody, took the cash with the intentions to bribe to the then vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar. Mody was acting as a cooperating witness and secretly recording her conversations with Jefferson for the FBI. (Watch the video of how the FBI nabbed Jefferson)
During the trial, in which neither Jefferson nor Mody testified, Trout said that Jefferson had no intention of paying a bribe to Abubakar, but never said why the money was in the freezer.
Jefferson’s lawyers, who are owed more than $5.7 million by Jefferson, according to documents submitted in his and wife Andrea’s recent bankruptcy filing, have 10 business days to file an appeal.
The attorneys have said that they will challenge several decisions made by Ellis during the trial including his definition of official acts, which they believer was overly broad and his decision not to tell the jury that an FBI agent assigned to the case had a sexual relationship with Mody in 2005 when she was recording conversations with Jefferson.
Watch the video of how the FBI nabbed Jefferson
Read also William Jefferson Case; Should Atiku Abubakar be tried for Bribery and Corruption?