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November 2009


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Column: Prediction on Sentencing for Rep. William Jefferson: The Judge Won’t Give him What the Prosecution Suggests

Allan Lengel

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON –  It’s almost judgment day for ex-Rep. William Jefferson,   the New Orleans Congressman who at one time seemed invincible.

That was at one time.  Last year, he lost his seat in a bid for a 10th term.  Then this past summer he was convicted by a federal jury on 11 of 16 public corruption charges in Alexandria, Va.

This Friday the 13th, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III will sentence him in Alexandria. The government is asking for a sentence of  27 to 33 years.  It says that’s what the federal sentencing guidelines call for. Still, I’ll be shocked if the sentence comes any where near that.  I’m predicting something closer to 10 to 12 years. OK, maybe 15 tops. But no more.

I could be off, but here’s my thoughts. Jefferson is 62. That’s got to be taken into consideration. A long sentence  would essentially amount to a life sentence. His crimes are egregious and an insult to the public,  but they’re not worthy of a life sentence.

Secondly, some of the biggest crooked politicians have gotten sentences far less than 33 years.  California Congressman  Randy “Duke” Cunningham got  8 years and 4 months for taking more than $2.4 million in bribes, which is apparently the toughest sentence any Congress member has ever gotten in a  federal public corruption case.

And Ohio’s Congressman Jim Traficant  (a guy who never had a good hair day) got eight years after being convicted on public corruption charges. If being obnoxious was a crime, he would have gotten a lot more.

Now here’s why Jefferson certainly can’t get less than 9 years.  His former aide, Brett Pfeffer got 8 years in prison for bribing Jefferson. And businessman Vernon Jackson got 7 years and 3 months in the case.

Both of them pleaded and agreed to cooperate.  Conversely, Jefferson fought the feds to the end and got convicted.

Granted, the judge figured at some point (he hasn’t yet) that he’d cut Jackson’s and Pfeffer’s  sentences for cooperating. Still, he set the bar high with those tough sentences.  So essentially, it would be a sham and injustice  if Jefferson got a lesser sentence than those two guys.

It all could have been different. Way back, months after the FBI raided Jefferson’s  homes in Washington and New Orleans in August of 2005 and found $90,000 in his freezer,  Jefferson’s attorney explored the possibility of a plea agreement.

In all likelihood, he could have hammered out a plea agreement that would have sent him off to prison for 4 to 6 years. But the talks never went very far. Jefferson, a Harvard Law graduate,  was not all that interested.

So on Friday he’ll  feel the full weight of the judicial system. No matter what he gets – 10 years or 30 years – it won’t be pretty.  This final chapter in this long, drawn out legal battle will be a sad one, particularly for those many many folks in New Orleans who invested so much hope in him over the years.

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