By Producer
NBC News
updated 9/8/2006 7:39:16 PM ET 2006-09-08T23:39:16

What started with a prayer outside the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, ended this afternoon with a seven year, two month prison sentence for Vernon Jackson, the CEO of a Kentucky technology company who pleaded guilty to bribing Rep. William Jefferson, (D-La).

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Jackson, the 54-year old CEO of iGate Inc., has pleaded guilty to funneling $400,000 to the ANJ Group, a company headed by Jefferson's wife and children. He said the payments were in exchange for Jefferson's help in trying to land him telecommunications deals in Africa.

Jackson is a key figure in the federal investigation of Jefferson, who hasn't been charged. But in court papers, prosecutors have alleged that they caught Jefferson on videotape taking a 100-thousand-dollar cash bribe. Most of that money later turned up in a freezer in Jefferson's Louisiana home.

Even though Jefferson's name was never mentioned by name in today's hearing, the Department of Justice prosecution team made it very clear that it was Jefferson who received the bribes, which were separate from the money investigators found in Jefferson's freezer.

Historic raid
In a weekend raid in May, more than a dozen computer hard drives, several floppy discs and two boxes of documents were seized from the embattled congressman's Capitol Hill office. That raid on a congressional office was the first in U.S. history.

An FBI affidavit used to justify the raid of Jefferson's office, quoted Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide who has pleaded guilty to a bribery-related charge, as saying the congressman would want something in return if he succeeded in getting him contracts in the Middle East. Pfeffer was sentenced in May to eight years in prison.

Prosecutors said today that Jackson is cooperating in the corruption investigation, and his sentence could be reduced based on that cooperation. Jackson admitting he paid the bribe money to Jefferson and his family members in exchange for the congressman's help obtaining business deals in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

International allegations
Separately, Nigerian investigators - reportedly pursuing a U.S. Department of Justice request to look at dealings between Rep. Jefferson and leaders of the Western African nation - have accused Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar of diverting millions of dollars of public money into private accounts. Abubakar has denied the allegations, which are not directly connected to the U.S. probe of Jefferson. But Abubakar's home in Potomac, Maryland, owned by one of his wives, was raided by the FBI in connection with the Jefferson investigation.

According to an article today in Nigeria's This Day newspaper, "Embattled Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday responded to the allegations of abuse of office against him, describing them as "a cocktail of lies and malicious fabrications," calculated to smear his name.

The newspaper also obtained a memo written by Abubaker which was given to Nigerian President Obasanjo. The memo states, "On Tuesday, September 5, 2006, I was questioned by a five-man Committee led by the Attorney-General of the Federation on matters relating to the Investigation of US Congressman William Jefferson."

The congressman has not been charged and has insisted he has an explanation for all the allegations. Jefferson has repeatedly predicted he will eventually be cleared of all wrongdoing.

Joel Seidman is an NBC producer, based in Washington, DC

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