The charges against the former lawmaker concerned a web of schemes in which he used political contacts to help American companies win contracts in West African countries. In return, payments or other financial benefits were given to Jefferson family members’ companies.A federal court in Alexandria, Virginia found Jefferson guilty of one count of racketeering, three counts of money laundering, two counts of soliciting bribes and two counts of conspiracy to solicit bribes, according to a local news station. He was also found guilty of three of the six counts of depriving citizens of honest service by wire fraud. Prosecutors had worked to avoid having the case heard in majority black New Orleans. The jury that convicted Jefferson, which contained four African-Americans, deliberated for five days.
The beginning of the end came for Jefferson in July 2005, when he was videotaped by the FBI being given $100,000 in hundred dollar bills at a Virginia hotel. He told the businesswoman, Lori Mody, that in order to in a contract for her telecom company in Nigeria, he would need to give a Nigerian government official $500,000 “as a motivating factor.” Mody was wearing a wire.
It was several days later that the Feds conducted their infamous raid of Jefferson’s DC home, in which, according to a later affidavit, they found $90,000 in cash in his freezer, wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers. Serial numbers on the bills confirmed that this was the money that the FBI had given to Mody as part of the operation.
In May 2006, Jefferson’s congressional offices were raided by the FBI. The action, believed to have been the first ever raid by the bureau on a member of Congress’s office, set off a bitter turf war between the bureau and Congress, in which Jefferson’s biggest ally was GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
In June 2007, Jefferson was indicted.
It’s worth noting that the jury did not find Jefferson guilty on the Foreign Corruptions Practices Act, which was the count linked to the money in the freezer. But the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:
While Mody did not testify at the trial, the jury heard segments of her taped conversations with Jefferson along with more than six weeks of testimony from government witnesses, including iGate Inc. CEO Vernon Jackson and Mody financial adviser Brett Pfeffer, both of whom are serving time after pleading guilty to their involvement in the bribe schemes, and hoped to see their sentences reduced in exchange for their testimony against Jefferson.
Jefferson’s defense lawyer had tried to argue that his business deals in Africa were not related to his “official acts” as a member of Congress, meaning bribery laws didn’t apply.
When Jefferson was elected to Congress in 1990, he became Louisiana’s first black congressman since Reconstruction. He served until this year, after losing his 2008 reelection bid, in a runoff election, to Republican Joseph Cao. His district included much of the greater New Orleans area.