From the Freezer to the Cooler: William Jefferson Gets 13 Years

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 17, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What began with a history making raid on a congressional office and $90k found in a freezer, ended with a 13 year sentence for ex-Louisiana Congressman William J. Jefferson last Friday. Jefferson was convicted of 11 out of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering related to business ventures in Africa. If he had been convicted on all counts, the 62 year old Jefferson could have faced up to 235 years in prison. As it stands, he is in for a comparatively light 13 years in federal prison. While he might get 15% of this time off for good behavior, there is no parole available in the federal sentencing system.

Jefferson's attorney attempted at trial to paint a picture of a man who was in an ethical gray area, but whose acts were not within the purview of "official acts" as a member of Congress, thus not violating the bribery statues. The prosecution saw it differently, depicting Jefferson as a guy who, in the words of Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows, "never let an opportunity to demand a bribe...pass him by." Jefferson plans an appeal.

The raid on Jefferson's home, which resulted in the FBI's find of $90k worth of loot stashed in the freezer, and the following raid on Jefferson's congressional office, set off a block of controversy, finally resulting in the U.S. Supreme Court declaring the raid on the office constitutionally flawed. Members of both parties heartily resented the incursion by the FBI on Congressional turf.

While Jefferson incurred a 13 year sentence for a gain of what prosecutors said was actually less than $400,000, in contrast, former Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA 50th), received a lighter sentence. Cunningham was sentenced in 2006 to eight years for what was then called an "unparalleled in the history of Congress" bout of corruption which garnered him about $2.4 million in homes, yachts and additional goodies.  It seems all is not fair -- or at least equal -- in love, war and sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines. 

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