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Jefferson pleads not guilty to bribery charges

Rep. William Jefferson pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of soliciting more than $500,000 in bribes while using his office to broker business deals in Africa. [!]
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rep. William Jefferson pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of soliciting more than $500,000 in bribes while using his office to broker business deals in Africa.

Jefferson, D-La., said he understood the charges during the federal court hearing. He was released on $100,000 bond.

A 94-page indictment, handed down Monday, details 11 separate bribery schemes and 16 criminal counts, including racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

If convicted, Jefferson faces a possible maximum sentence of 235 years. His trial is scheduled for January.

The charges came almost two years after investigators raided Jefferson’s home in Washington and found $90,000 in cash stuffed in a box in his freezer.

During Friday’s hearing, prosecutor Mark Lytle said the government had compiled evidence filling eight file cabinets and had extensive tape recordings. The prosecution’s case could take up to a month to present, he said.

Jefferson, who had been under investigation for more than two years, was re-elected last year. After his indictment, he resigned from the House Small Business Committee while maintaining his innocence.

On Thursday, a federal judge froze Jefferson’s assets and the House ethics committee voted to expand its own investigation of Jefferson to include any subject in the 16-count corruption indictment.

Jefferson is the first U.S. official to face charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits corporate bribery overseas.