ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal jury convicted a former Louisiana congressman Wednesday of taking bribes on 11 of 16 counts in a case in which agents found $90,000 in his freezer.
Former Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat who had represented parts of New Orleans, was accused of accepting more than $400,000 in bribes and seeking millions more in exchange for brokering business deals in Africa.
Jefferson, Louisiana’s first black member of Congress since Reconstruction, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Jefferson could face 185 years in prison if convicted on the maximum for each of the guilty verdicts, but prosecutors refused to speculate on what sentence U.S. District T.S. Ellis III might impose.
It took jurors five days to reach a decision after an eight-week trial. Most of the trial was government testimony. The defense wrapped up its case in a matter of hours.
The defense argued that Jefferson was acting as a private business consultant in brokering the deals and that his actions did not constitute bribery under federal law.
Prosecutors accused Jefferson of hiding bribes by funneling money disguised as consulting fees through sham companies controlled by his wife and brother.
In one recording played by defense attorneys, Jefferson explained that he did not want his name on any of the deals to avoid an appearance of impropriety.
“Congressman Jefferson has a compact with the citizens of Louisiana and the people of the United States, and he violated his trust and sold his office,” Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told reporters outside the courthouse.
“He used his office and his influence to enrich himself,” Boente said. “... No person, not even a congressman, is above the law.”
Legally, much of the case turned on whether Jefferson's deal-brokering constituted an "official act" under federal bribery laws.
Jefferson has been under investigation since March 2005. In August of that year, FBI agents searched his Washington home and found $90,000 cash in his freezer, wrapped in foil and hidden in boxes of frozen pie crust.
Jefferson has disputed a claim by prosecutors that the freezer cash was bribe money.
Travers Mackel of NBC station WDSU of New Orleans and The Associated Press contributed to this story.