SCOTUS Says No to 'Dollar Bill' Jefferson Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Many Harvard Law graduates dream of appearing before the Supreme Court. Former Louisiana Congressman William “Bill” Jefferson shared that dream with his HLS peers, albeit for a different reason: Jefferson hoped that the Court might vacate his 13-year prison sentence for corruption.

This week, the Nine declined to hear Jefferson’s appeal, laying that dream to rest, the Times-Picayune reports.

As a nine-term congressman, William Jefferson represented the Second District of Louisiana, which covers most of New Orleans. He served on several committees and subcommittees of the House during his tenure, including the Ways and Means Committee and its subcommittee on trade, and the Budget Committee. During his congressional tenure, Jefferson also served as co-chair of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Nigeria.

In 2005, the FBI and the Department of Justice began a comprehensive corruption investigation of Jefferson. The Congressman gained notoriety when federal agents searched his Capitol Hill office in 2006 after discovering $90,000 in alleged bribe money his freezer at home. It was the first time in history that a sitting congressman's office had been searched, reported CNN.

More than two years later, the federal grand jury in Alexandria returned a 16-count indictment against the Louisiana congressman.

In August 2009, Jefferson was convicted in a Virginia federal court of 11 offenses -- including conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery, money laundering, and racketeering -- arising from his involvement in multiple bribery and fraud schemes. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Jefferson appealed, arguing:

  • The court gave the jury erroneous instructions with respect to the definition of "official act" and the "quid pro quo" element of the bribery-related charge.
  • Jefferson's schemes to deprive citizens of honest services did not constitute federal crimes.
  • Venue was improper on one of his wire fraud offenses.

Jefferson had claimed in his appeal that the charges against him were improper because his attempts to influence foreign officials fell outside his congressional job description and because the bribes he received were not part of an explicit quid pro quo agreement.

The Fourth Circuit concluded that "an absurd result would occur if we were to deem Jefferson's illicit actions as outside the purview of the bribery statute simply because he was rewarded by periodic payments to his family's businesses." The appellate court did, however, vacate one of Jefferson's wire fraud convictions for improper venue.

Jefferson is scheduled for release from prison in August 2023, according to the Times-Picayune.

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