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Former congressman convicted on bribery, money laundering charges

[JURIST] Former Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) [official profile; JURIST news archive] was found guilty [press release] on Wednesday of 11 counts of public corruption. Jefferson was convicted of using his position on the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee [official website] to promote the interests of companies involved in development projects in Africa, seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for himself and African government officials. While Jefferson faces a maximum of 150 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines for bribery, racketeering and money laundering, he was acquitted on five other counts of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [DOJ materials] and obstruction of justice. The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente [official profile], said that the conviction "should be a clear signal that no public official – and certainly not a US Congressman – can put their office up for sale and betray that office." Judge T S Ellis III allowed Jefferson to remain free on bond until his sentencing, scheduled for October 30, over the objections of prosecutors who cited his ties to Africa in labeling him a flight risk. The jury will decide Thursday whether Jefferson is required to forfeit $456,000 and stock allegedly acquired through corruption.

In November, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed [JURIST report] Jefferson's appeal seeking to have bribery charges against him dropped. He had argued the charges were based on evidence protected by the US Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause [text; backgrounder], which makes certain information relating to legislative action privileged. In March, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said it planned to pursue the case against Jefferson despite an appeals court ruling [JURIST reports] that other evidence confiscated from his office during an FBI raid was protected by the Speech and Debate Clause. Jefferson pleaded not guilty to the charges [JURIST reports] against him in June. In January 2007, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] to bribery charges for his role in the scheme.

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