Alexandria, Va. — A former Louisiana congressman who famously hid $90,000 cash in his freezer was sentenced Friday to 13 years in prison for taking bribes, the longest term ever imposed on a congressman for bribery charges.
William Jefferson, a Democrat who represented parts of New Orleans for nearly 20 years, was convicted in August of taking roughly $500,000 in bribes and seeking millions more in exchange for using his influence to broker business deals in Africa. The sentence was still far less than the nearly 30 years prosecutors had sought.
Agents investigating the case found $90,000 wrapped in foil and hidden in boxes of frozen pie crusts in his freezer.
Prosecutors had asked a judge to follow federal guidelines and sentence him to at least 27 years, though the judge determined Friday that the sentencing guidelines should have been calculated at 22 years instead of 27. The defense asked for less than 10 years, arguing a stiffer sentence would be far longer than those imposed on congressmen convicted of similar crimes in recent years, none of whom was sentenced to more than a decade.
Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., for example, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for taking bribes from lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Prosecutor Mark Lytle said that, had Jefferson’s schemes come to full fruition, he stood to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in 11 separate bribery schemes.
Jefferson’s lawyer, Robert Trout, said that while his client acknowledged a level of responsibility for his conduct, he also believed that he was operating within the law. And he urged the judge to consider the fact that Jefferson lifted himself up from poverty to become the first African-American to represent Louisiana in Congress since Reconstruction.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said he did take Jefferson’s life history into account but that public corruption must be dealt with severely.
“Public corruption is a cancer on the body politic,” Ellis said. “There must be some sort of greed virus that attacks those in power.”