ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A former Louisiana congressman who infamously was caught with $90,000 in cash hidden in his freezer will have to begin serving a 13-year bribery sentence within the next two weeks, a judge ruled Friday.
Democrat William Jefferson, who represented parts of New Orleans for nearly 20 years, was convicted and sentenced back in 2009 for taking roughly $500,000 in bribes and seeking millions more in exchange for using his influence to broker business deals in Africa.
But he has been free on bond, living in New Orleans while appealing his conviction.
Last month, though, a federal appeals court in Richmond upheld all but one of the 11 counts on which he was convicted, including bribery, money laundering and racketeering. At a status hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered Jefferson, 65, to turn himself in to U.S. Marshals by May 4 to serve the sentence.
Jefferson's lawyer, Robert Trout, and prosecutor Mark Lytle had both agreed that, following the appeals court's unanimous ruling, the time had come for Jefferson to begin serving his time.
Trout's only request was that Jefferson be designated to a prison camp in Pensacola, Fla., not far from his family. The judge agreed to recommend a camp near New Orleans, but declined to recommend a specific site to the Bureau of Prisons.
It is unusual within the prison system for inmates serving more than 10 years to be allowed to do their time at prison camps, which are minimum-security facilities with dormitory-style housing. The Bureau of Prisons is not bound by the judge's recommendation.
Jefferson did not attend Friday's hearing.
Trout said Friday that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court remains under consideration.
The key argument on appeal was that Jefferson's actions were not technically bribery under federal law because he did not take or solicit money in exchange for an "official act," like voting on legislation. But the appeals court ruled unanimously that it would be "absurd" to conclude that Jefferson's actions would not be considered bribery. The only count that was dismissed was a wire fraud count tossed out for lack of venue. Its dismissal does not affect the length of Jefferson's sentence. The 13-year term was the longest ever imposed on a congressman for bribery charges.
The investigation of Jefferson began in March 2005. The FBI set up a sting after a disgruntled businesswoman, Lori Mody, told the FBI that she had been cheated out of $3.5 million in deals brokered by Jefferson.
Jurors saw videotape of Mody -- who was wearing a wire for the FBI -- handing over a suitcase with $100,000 cash to Jefferson outside an Arlington hotel. Most of that money was later found in Jefferson's freezer. Prosecutors said Jefferson planned to use the money to pay his own bribe to the then-vice president of Nigeria to secure a multimillion-dollar telecommunications deal there.
The defense argued Jefferson was acting as a private business consultant in brokering the deals.
Jefferson was re-elected in 2006 even after news of the bribery scandal broke but was indicted and then lost in 2008 to Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao.