Prosecutors had asked for a term of 27 to 33 years under federal sentencing guidelines. The request was significantly longer than for other congressmen in recent scandals. Defense lawyers had sought a term of less than 10 years. The 13 year sentence, which Jefferson’s lawyers have 10 days to appeal, is believed to be the longest ever given to a former member of Congress.
Jefferson, who represented part of New Orleans, was convicted in August on 11 of 16 federal charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, and racketeering. He was also the first sitting member of Congress to be charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Jefferson tried to bribe the then-vice president of Nigeria. Some $90,000 of that bribe was found in Jefferson’s freezer when federal agents raided his home.
A judge's tough words
In imposing the sentence Friday afternoon in a courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, Judge T.S. Ellis III said Jefferson’s conduct was “a cancer on the body politic.”
On the advice of his attorney, Jefferson declined the opportunity to make a statement at his sentencing, and he remained silent because he plans to appeal his conviction.
In sentencing documents, federal prosecutors accused Jefferson of a “stunning betrayal of public trust” and sought a sentence that could amount to life for the 62 year-old former member of Congress.
“The defendant betrayed the public’s trust time after time by using his congressional office as a criminal enterprise to further a pattern of racketeering acts of corruption and self-enrichment,” prosecutors wrote. They noted that Jefferson had participated in “no fewer than eleven distinct bribe schemes.”
Not a punch line
Jefferson’s attorneys argued that the government’s sentencing recommendations ignored the full picture of the accused’s life and accomplishments.
"William Jefferson is more than the punch line of a late night talk show joke or the one-dimensional character depicted in the prosecution’s arguments,” the defense memo said. They said the court should “ensure that while the sanction adequately reflects the gravity of the offense, it is not greater than necessary to serve the ends of justice.”
The defense noted that no court had ever imposed a sentence of longer than 100 months in a case involving a member of Congress. In 2006 Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R) of California was sentenced to eight years and four months for taking $2.4 million in bribes to help military contractors win government business as well as for tax evasion and fraud.
Material from wire services was used in preparing this story.
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