Jefferson Vows to Fight Federal Charges
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since Monday's indictment on bribery, racketeering and money-laundering charges, vowing to "sell every stick of furniture in our home and anything else we may own" to fight the government's accusations.
"I am absolutely innocent of the charges that have been leveled against me and I'm going to fight my heart out to clear my name," Jefferson said in a prepared statement outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria before a throng of reporters and photographers, shortly after being arraigned on 16 criminal charges.
Jefferson entered a not-guilty plea during a 30-minute arraignment before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who ordered him to surrender his passport to defense attorney Robert P. Trout pending a January trial.
Ellis released Jefferson, 60, on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond but said the embattled lawmaker would have to seek court permission to travel anywhere outside the Washington area except his home state of Louisiana. Overseas trips would be considered on a case-by-case basis, the judge said.
Outside the courthouse, Jefferson, wearing a dark suit, blue dress shirt and red tie, spoke to reporters in a low but urgent voice about his wife, five daughters and three grandchildren, emphasizing their Ivy League degrees, their patriotism and their commitment to both church and public service.
He contrasted the family's accomplishments with allegations in the indictment that Jefferson advanced his schemes by placing relatives on boards of companies to solicit bribes and kickbacks.
"Incredibly this is the same family that the U.S. attorney and the FBI and I guess some in Justice want you to believe is a family of bribers, racketeers and conspirators," said Jefferson, who like three of his daughters is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
Jefferson, whose wife, Andrea Green-Jefferson, stood by his side, cast the charges against him in political terms and described himself as being caught in a David vs. Goliath battle. "They can attempt to break one, psychologically and financially," Jefferson said. ". . . No matter what, the truth will always come to light. . . . This is not who we are. This is not who I am. This is not what I have done."
Jefferson is alleged to have offered and accepted numerous bribes to support business ventures in the United States and West Africa. He had been under investigation since March 2005. The probe made headlines across the country when authorities searching his home on Aug. 3, 2005, found $90,000 in cash stuffed in his freezer.
Authorities alleged that Jefferson had solicited the cash from Lori Mody, a wealthy Northern Virginia business associate, to bribe the Nigerian vice president. Mody was working as an FBI informant and wore a recording device when she passed on the cash that was actually from the FBI.
"Suffice it to say that the alleged facts in the indictment were contrived merely as part of a sting and all of the allegations are misleading and all the allegations are untrue. . . . This case involves purely private business activities and not official acts by me," Jefferson said. "Did I bribe a foreign official? Absolutely not. The $90,000 was the FBI's money. The FBI gave it to me as part of their plan that I would give it to the Nigerian vice president. But I did not do that."
On Wednesday, Ellis issued an order freezing Jefferson's assets, which he said was necessary because the government wants to seize any funds that might be traceable to allegedly illegal activities.
In the courtroom, Jefferson acknowledged he understood the charges and waived his right to a speedy trial. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Jan. 16, with the trial to follow. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark D. Lytle told the judge that the government could need up to four weeks to present its case, which he said involved enough evidence to fill eight file cabinets. Ellis said the case should not take that much time.
Jefferson was stripped of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee last year because of the looming investigation but was reelected to his House seat by a large margin. After his indictment Monday, he resigned from the House Small Business Committee.
The FBI had no comment on Jefferson's remarks outside the courthouse yesterday.