Video: Feds indict congressman on corruption charges

By Producer
NBC News and news services
updated 6/7/2007 5:46:05 PM ET 2007-06-07T21:46:05

A federal judge in Virginia issued a restraining order to freeze the assets of Louisiana Democrat, Representative William Jefferson, including stocks he owned from two West African companies.

Jefferson was indicted Monday on charges he solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

The congressman is facing 16 criminal counts including a forfeiture count.  Federal prosecutors have said they will seek to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars from Jefferson that they believe he obtained illicitly by peddling his influence to help broker business deals in Africa.

Federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg said at a Justice Department news conference, "The 16-count indictment alleges a pervasive pattern of self-dealing, bribery, and corruption by Mr. Jefferson."

Prosecutors claim Jefferson turned his Capitol Hill office into a personal profit center and even discussed taking a bribe in a congressional dining room.

The order signed by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis says Jefferson, and his family and attorneys are "enjoined and restrained from selling, transferring, assigning, pledging distributing, giving away, encumbering, or otherwise participating in the disposal" of a list of six bank accounts and stocks.  Judge Ellis writes, "It is hereby ordered that the accounts and other property of the defendant maintained at United States financial institutions be and the same are 'frozen.'"

The frozen assets include:

Jefferson is scheduled to be arraigned Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

The defense
Jefferson's attorney Robert Trout said at a news conference, "Congressman Jefferson is innocent and he plans to fight this indictment and clear his name."

Trout said the Department of Justice, "secretly taped him and tried to trap him in a government sting."

"They clearly conducted a sting operation. They clearly were intent on trying to develop a case against the congressman," said Trout.

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The congressman was taped by the FBI accepting $100 thousand bribe in cash outside a Washington area hotel two years ago. Prosecutors allege that $90 thousand of the amount Jefferson accepted ended up in the freezer of his Washington home.

Trout said the FBI got excited about trying to bring down a congressman, "When certain facts came to the attention of the FBI they decided that it was an opportunity of their part to bring down a congressman they get excited about that. In this particular case they picked the wrong congressman and they picked the wrong facts."

The situation
Jefferson is charged with racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Jefferson is accused of soliciting bribes for himself and his family, and also for bribing a Nigerian official.

Last May FBI agents armed with a search warrant raided Jefferson's congressional offices and seized more than a dozen computer hard drives, several floppy discs and two boxes of documents. That raid on a congressman's office was the first in U.S. history.

Last September Vernon Jackson, the CEO of a Kentucky technology company, who pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Jackson admitted to funneling more than $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.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia heard arguments about the legitimacy of an FBI raid on Jefferson's Capitol Hill offices, and whether they should order the return of documents seized to the congressman.

The Appeals Court has yet to render an opinion on the case.

Federal prosecutors said that Jefferson faces a statutory maximum sentence of 235 years in prison if convicted of each of the 16-counts he has been charged.

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