On Friday, Rep. William Jefferson (D.-La.) pled “not guilty” to FBI charges of wire fraud, racketeering and money-laundering as well as soliciting more than a half million dollars in bribes for illicit deals he conducted as a member of Congress.
After his arraignment, Jefferson told reporters, “I am absolutely innocent of the charges that have been leveled against me. I am going to fight my heart out to clear my name.”
The FBI’s 94-page indictment of Jefferson cited 11 bribery schemes he had participated in and leveled 16 criminal counts against him.
According to the indictment, in return for large checks and “things of value,” Jefferson abused his official position by conducting: “telecommunications deals in Nigeria, Ghana, and elsewhere; oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea; satellite transmission contracts in Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republican of Congo; deep water offshore oil reserves in the territorial waters of Sao Tome and Principe; waste recycling systems in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea; development of different plants and facilities in Nigeria; and marginal oil fields in Nigeria.”
Most of these deals profited the eight companies Jefferson controlled or directed, most of which are limited liability corporations. The indictment stated that to enrich these companies, Jefferson charged various commission charges or fees paid to the various companies in exchange for his facilitation of high-level meetings and other favors.
While conducting these activities, Jefferson used his official position to hold meetings with officials from the Export-Import Bank and the United States Trade and Development Agency. According to court documents, he lobbied them to obtain government money to fund his secret foreign projects.
During the time Jefferson allegedly conducted these illegal activities, he was a member of the Budget committee, the Ways and Means committee and the subcommittee on Trade. He was also the co-chair of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Nigeria.
Prosecutor Mark Lytle’s squad said Friday they had eight filing cabinets full of evidence to deliver to Jefferson’s legal defense team to prove their case against the congressman.
The FBI’s investigation against Jefferson began in March 2005 after a wealthy businesswoman contacted federal authorities because she believed she was a victim of a fraudulent bribery scheme orchestrated by Jefferson, his former aid Brent Pfeffer and Vernon Jackson, president and CEO of iGate, a Kentucky based telecommunications company.
Pfeffer has already pled guilty to bribery charges. Likewise, Jackson has pled guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges.
Since the investigation was opened, the FBI has executed search warrants on Jefferson’s congressional office and homes in Washington D.C. and New Orleans.
Court documents released in June 2006 state that Jefferson accepted $100,000 from an FBI informant to bribe African officials in June 2005. The bills were marked, and $90,000 was found hidden in the freezer of Jefferson’s Washington home in August 2005.