Ex-lawmaker Jefferson convicted in bribery scheme

WASHINGTON Wed Aug 5, 2009 9:59pm EDT

Then U.S. Rep. William Jefferson talks to the press while leaving U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after arraignment proceedings against him in Alexandria, Virginia, in this June 8, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/files

Then U.S. Rep. William Jefferson talks to the press while leaving U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after arraignment proceedings against him in Alexandria, Virginia, in this June 8, 2007 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas/files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. Congressman William Jefferson, who was caught with $90,000 in cash in his freezer, was convicted on Wednesday on multiple charges of bribery and money laundering.

The former Congressman from Louisiana, accused in 2007 of soliciting millions of dollars in bribes from companies while using his office to broker business deals in Africa, was found guilty of 11 of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering.

In a search of his residence, FBI agents found the $90,000 neatly wrapped in foil and stashed in his freezer.

Jefferson faces up to 150 years in prison and could forfeit payments totaling $456,000, plus stock certificates.

During his trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, prosecutors said Jefferson had sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes relating to business ventures, mainly in Africa.

They included telecommunications deals in Nigeria and Ghana, oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea, satellite transmission contracts in Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo, and a Nigerian sugar plant.

"It should be a clear signal that no public official -- and certainly not a U.S. Congressman -- can put their office up for sale and betray that office," Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney in Virginia, said of the verdict. "It cannot be tolerated."

Sentencing was scheduled for October 30.

Jefferson can appeal his conviction and was not taken into custody.

A member of Congress since 1991, Jefferson, 62, a Democrat, was defeated in an election last year by Republican Anh "Joseph" Caowho, who became the first Vietnamese American in the House of Representatives.

The district includes most of New Orleans, which was ravaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When he was first charged, Jefferson acknowledged he had made mistakes in judgment that he regretted, but denied selling his office or trading official acts for money.

He also challenged the indictment, arguing that it unconstitutionally infringed on his privileges as a legislator. But the courts held that a grand jury did not improperly consider any legislative material.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Chris Wilson)

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