Jefferson’s Sentence Is a Record-Setter

The 13-year prison sentence given to the Louisiana Democrat is the longest ever handed down to a former Member of Congress. Before handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said: “There is no doubt that you have led an extraordinary life and you have accomplished a great deal. … It makes this event all the sadder.” Ellis told Jefferson that he had “squandered” his gifts. “Public corruption is a cancer,” he said. “It needs to be surgically removed.”

http://www.rollcall.com
November 16, 2009

Jefferson’s Sentence Is a Record-Setter
Jennifer Yachnin

WilliamJefferson.jpg

Ex-Rep. William Jefferson, seen Friday entering the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., was sentenced to 13 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given to a former Member of Congress. His lawyer said he will appeal the conviction. Bill Clark/Roll Call

A freezer full of cash made ex-Rep. William Jefferson a national punch line, and a federal judge on Friday made him a record-holder: The 13-year prison sentence given to the Louisiana Democrat is the longest ever handed down to a former Member of Congress.

Before handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said: “There is no doubt that you have led an extraordinary life and you have accomplished a great deal. … It makes this event all the sadder.”

Ellis told Jefferson that he had “squandered” his gifts. “Public corruption is a cancer,” he said. “It needs to be surgically removed.”

Federal prosecutor Mark Lytle used stronger language, calling Jefferson’s actions the “most extensive and pervasive pattern of corruption in the history of Congress.”

Jefferson stood at a podium before the judge as the sentence was read, with his head bowed to the left, but he had no other visible reaction.

Jefferson declined to address the court during Friday’s proceedings. Defense attorney Robert Trout said he advised Jefferson not to speak, noting that he expects to appeal the case.

A federal jury found Jefferson guilty in August of 11 criminal charges, including conspiracy to solicit bribes, money laundering, wire fraud and a pattern of racketeering activity.

Ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who pleaded guilty in March 2006 to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors, as well as tax evasion and fraud, is serving an eight-year, four-month sentence in a federal penitentiary in Tucson, Ariz.

Prior to Jefferson’s sentencing, Cunningham had the distinction of receiving the longest prison term for a former lawmaker. He is scheduled to be released in June 2013.

At least three other former House Members have also completed their terms of incarceration in federal prisons in the past year or so, including ex-Reps. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio), Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Frank Ballance (D-N.C.).

Traficant, convicted in 2002 on charges including bribery, fraud and racketeering, served an eight-year prison term that concluded with his release in September.

Ballance, a one-term Member who served in the 108th Congress, completed a four-year prison term in June. Ballance pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and money laundering related to more than $300,000 in state funds that he steered to a North Carolina nonprofit that he controlled. Ney, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to making false statements and conspiracy in connection with receiving thousands of dollars in gifts, meals and sports tickets from disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates, received a 30-month sentence, which he completed in August 2008.

In court documents, Trout cited a litany of other previously incarcerated lawmakers, part of an effort to limit Jefferson’s term to no more than 10 years.

In addition to those Members recently incarcerated, Trout also identified ex-Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.), who served two prison terms, including a sentence of 78 months on charges of election fraud and bank fraud.

Trout did not reference Reynolds’ earlier conviction on charges related to his sexual relationship with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer, for which he served five years.

The defense team also cited ex-Rep. Jay Kim (R-Calif.), who pleaded guilty in 1997 to receiving illegal campaign contributions; ex-Rep. Donald Lukens (R-Ohio), who was convicted of bribery in 1996; ex-Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the House Post Office scandal in 1996; ex-Rep. Albert Bustamante (D-Texas), who was convicted in 1993 of racketeering and accepting an illegal gift; and ex-Rep. Patrick Swindall (R-Ga.), who was convicted in 1989 on perjury charges for lying to a grand jury investigating a money laundering scheme.

In court documents filed earlier this month, federal prosecutors recommended Jefferson receive a prison term of up to 33 years, asserting his “crimes against the people of the United States were exceptional in their sheer number, length, and breadth.”

“While the guidelines sentence calculated by the Probation Office is lengthy, it is appropriate, in that Congressman Jefferson’s criminal activities have surely caused or substantially added to the loss of public confidence and trust in our nation’s highest levels of government,” the government stated.

But Jefferson’s defense objected to those recommendations, arguing that the court should “fully explore and consider Mr. Jefferson’s life story,” and not his crimes.

“But William Jefferson is more than the punchline of a late-night talk show joke or the one-dimensional character depicted in the prosecution’s arguments. He has done much more in his life than pursue the business ventures described during the trial,” Trout wrote. “And therefore the defense seeks to acquaint the court with the rest of the picture, with who William Jefferson is and where he came from.”

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