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Jury Convicts Former Lawmaker in Freezer Cash Case

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- A former U.S. congressman was convicted Wednesday of taking bribes 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. A federal jury convicted him on 11 of 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering and money laundering.

Jefferson was stoic as the verdict was read and had little to say afterward, deferring most questions to his lawyer. Asked how he was doing, he said, "I'm holding up."

Defense lawyer Robert Trout said he will appeal the convictions.

"We certainly believe we have strong issue for a legal appeal," Trout said outside the courthouse.

Jefferson was acquitted of counts that included obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He was the first official to be charged with violating that act, which makes it illegal to bribe foreign government officials.

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.

It took jurors five days to reach a decision after an eight-week trial that was mostly government testimony. The defense wrapped up its case in a matter of hours.

Prosecutor Mark Lytle said Jefferson could face more than 20 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. He wanted the 62-year-old former congressman detained immediately after the verdict, saying his ties to Africa made him a risk to flee what could amount to a life prison sentence.

However, Judge T.S. Ellis III allowed Jefferson to remain free on bond because of his local ties.

U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said after the verdict that "no person, not even a congressman, is above the law. Ninety thousand dollars in a freezer is not a gray area. It's a violation."

Jefferson has been under investigation since March 2005. In August 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.

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.

Legally, much of the case turned on whether Jefferson's deal-brokering constituted an "official act" under federal bribery laws.

Jefferson has disputed a claim by prosecutors that the freezer cash was bribe money.

Jefferson is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 30. The jurors must return to the courthouse Thursday to consider whether Jefferson has to forfeit more than $450,000 in alleged bribe receipts.