November 14, 2009 / 1:56 PM / 9 years ago

Ex-lawmaker gets 13 years in prison for bribery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Democratic U.S. Representative William Jefferson, who hid $90,000 in cash in his freezer, was sentenced on Friday to 13 years in prison for bribery, racketeering and money laundering.

Jefferson, who lost re-election last year in Louisiana, was accused in 2007 of soliciting millions of dollars in bribes from companies while using his office to broker business deals in Africa. He was convicted in August on 11 of 16 counts.

The case became particularly well-known because FBI agents said they found $90,000 in cash wrapped in foil and hidden inside various frozen food containers in his freezer.

Prosecutors recommended to the judge that Jefferson, 62, be sentenced to at least 27 years in prison. Defense lawyers asked for leniency, citing Jefferson’s long public service, and said he should get less than 10 years.

A Justice Department spokesman said Jefferson received a 13-year prison sentence, followed by three years of probation. He was also ordered to forfeit $470,000.

“Mr. Jefferson is well-known for the $90,000 found in his freezer. It is our hope that he will now be well-known for the tough sentence handed down today, showing that no one —

including our elected officials — are above the law,” Neil

MacBride, the U.S. attorney in Virginia, said in a statement.

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.

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.

A member of Congress since 1991, Jefferson was defeated in an election last year by Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao, who became the first Vietnamese American in the House of Representatives.

Cao was the only Republican to vote for the Democratic healthcare bill last week in the House. His heavily Democratic district includes most of New Orleans, which was ravaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini; Editing by Will Dunham

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