“I dunno know about morals but I do got rules” Tony Soprano
By Allan Lengel
ALEXANDRIA,Va. – The prosecution’s closing argument went something like this: Ex-Congressman William Jefferson was a crook. He sold his office. He took bribes.
The defense argument went something like this: Sure Jefferson may have had some ethical breaches; done some stupid and reckless things. But he committed no crime and the government simply created a case out of fiction.
With that kind exchange of words, court ended late Wednesday afternoon. The jury of eight women and four men will get instructions from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III Thursday morning and then begin deliberating on the 16 felony counts.
Jefferson,62, chose to go to trial and fight the case rather than entertain a plea agreement.
Earlier on, after the FBI raided his homes in August 2005, there were some initial talks of a plea agreement that amounted to about six years in prison. They never went very far.
Now we’ll finally see if the gamble pays off. A conviction could easily land him at least 10 years in prison, that is if you take into account that two smaller fish – Vernon Jackson and Brett Pfeffer — are already serving more than seven years each for pleading guilty to bribing him.
Jackson, owner of iGate, a high tech company, and Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, both testified against Jefferson during the seven-week trial and are likely to get sentence reductions.
Jefferson faces a mountain of felony charges including soliciting bribes, bribing a foreign official, racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering. He is accused of taking more than $400,000 in bribes and working to get millions more.
Authorities have contended that he used his official office to promote business in Africa that he and his family had secret financial interest in. Payoffs were made to sham, paper companies, the prosecution charged.
On Wednesday, the 9th floor courtroom in Alexandria was packed – at least for part of the day with Jefferson’s wife and five daughters in attendance. So was Ed Weidenfeld, the D.C.. attorney for the Atiku Abubakar, the ex-Vice President of Nigeria, whom Jefferson is accused of bribing.
During the defense’s closing argument, some how the classic line from Tony Soprano came to mind: “I dunno about morals, but I do got rules.”
In Jefferson’s case, perhaps, more appropriately, the theme of his defense would be; “I dunno about ethics, but I do got rules”, meaning his ethics are suspect, but he has rules when it comes to stepping over the line and committing a crime.