Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The sad case of William Jefferson

While I was enjoying the revelry and brotherhood associated with the National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC) last week, I lost touch with what was happening in the Virginia courthouse where the federal government had laid out its case against former Louisiana Second District Congressman William Jefferson. Jefferson, a political icon from New Orleans, has been a civic leader in New Orleans for decades. After he lost the mayoralty two times while a state legislator, he ran for an open seat vacated by then-retired Congresswoman Lindy Boggs some 18 years ago. He had withstood challenge after challenge until this past election when he won the Democratic primary, but failed to muster his troops in the general election. In a surprise defeat, he was bested by Loyola professor Anh Joseph Cao, a Republican and the first Vietnamese elected to Congress. Cao (pronounced Gow) has acknowledged he probably won't be re-elected in the largely black district that was designed in effect to ensure that an African-American would represent New Orleans in Congress. While still a congressman, Jefferson was able to thwart prosecution, but once he was ousted from office, the federal government sped up its case which resulted in 16 indictments. The most compelling evidence seemed to be $90,000 that was videotaped being given to Jefferson from an FBI informant that was allegedly to be used for bribes. The cash was found in a freezer along with a lot of other cash that could not be directly proven to be payouts for influence peddling. According to the government, the money was to be used to ensure that members of the Jefferson family would reap financial windfalls in the form of stock in foreign enterprises and percentages in businesses held in Africa. The 11 guilty counts out of 16 that were returned last Thursday after five days of jury diliberations signal the end of the career of a high profile politician, who wielded tremendous power both in New Orleans and in Congress. Ironically, the count that involved the $90,000 received a not guilty verdict. Nonetheless, it is another closed chapter in a history of corruption, malfeasance and influence peddling that seems to repeat itself year after year. Meanwhile, Mose Jefferson, the older brother of William goes on trial this week on charges that stemmed from the federal investigation that eventually felled his brother. If prosecutors have their way, though, the Jefferson family might be spending a considerable time living at government expense for the near future.

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