In early June, the Department of Justice brought federal charges against Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat serving the 2nd District of Louisiana. Should the 16 charges against Jefferson stick, the Harvard-trained lawyer could land in jail for more than 200 years.
Among the criminal allegations handed down in the 94-page indictment from the Justice Department are charges that Jefferson violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, committed wire fraud, solicited bribes, and laundered money. The nine-term Congressman is accused of using his office to influence a complex web of technology business ventures in Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon in exchange for stock options and cash kickbacks.
A trial date of Jan. 16, 2008, has been set.
Jefferson, who was unable to comment, released a statement pertaining to the charges: “I am innocent of these charges and I plan to fight to clear my name,” Jefferson wrote. “For 17 years, I have served the people of the 2nd District of Louisiana honestly, and I am committed to serving them today. Did I make mistakes in judgment along the way that I now deeply regret? Yes. But did I sell my office or trade official acts for money? Absolutely not.”
Jefferson, who has since pleaded not guilty, faces a series of battles not just in the courtroom but in the court of public opinion as well. In May 2006, the FBI raided Jefferson’s Capitol Hill offices–the first raid of its kind in U.S. history–seizing documents as well as computer hard drives. In 2005 during a search of Jefferson’s home, the FBI found roughly $90,000 in food containers in a freezer. To make matters appear worse for Jefferson, two of his associates have already pleaded guilty to charges related to Jefferson’s federal indictment.