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Prosecutors to court: Start Rep. Jefferson trial

/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal prosecutors are urging an appeals court to get on with Rep. William Jefferson's corruption trial, saying his appeal to the Supreme Court does not have enough chance of success to justify further delays.

Jefferson. D-La., was indicted on bribery charges after agents found $90,000 in his freezer. He has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers argue that his trial should be delayed pending his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jefferson argues that the charges are invalid because a grand jury got access to information about his actions as a member of Congress. That, Jefferson claims, runs afoul of a constitutional clause that shields members of Congress from civil or criminal action stemming from the performance of their legislative duties.

But in a brief filed this week in Richmond, Va., with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, prosecutor Mark Lytle said delaying the trial would cause "further prejudice," or harm, to the government's case against the nine-term congressman. The government brought the charges 18 months ago.

Jefferson, Lytle wrote, has not shown the required "reasonable probability" of success with the high court on the merits of his case.

"And, at trial, the District Court will scrupulously guard against any possible violations of the Speech or Debate Clause" that Jefferson cited, Lytle wrote.

The 2005 discovery of the money in Jefferson's freezer led to an indictment on charges that he took bribes, laundered money and misused his congressional office for business dealings in Africa. Jefferson has promised there is an "honorable explanation" for the money in the freezer, although he has yet to make it public.

He lost his bid for re-election in December to Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao, who will become the first Vietnamese-American in Congress.

Jefferson faces up to 235 years in prison if convicted on all charges.