Former Louisiana congressman William Jefferson is a free man despite having served less than half of a 13-year prison sentence on corruption charges.
“I’m just grateful,” Jefferson, 70, said outside an Alexandria federal courtroom Friday morning after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III resentenced him to time served.
The same judge oversaw an eight-week trial in 2009 that led to the former Democratic congressman’s conviction on 16 charges related to business dealings in Africa. Among other unsavory dealings, the then-lawmaker at one point stashed $90,000 in cash for the vice president of Nigeria in his freezer.
But in light of the Supreme Court's redefinition of public corruption in a case involving former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R), Ellis in October vacated all but three convictions against Jefferson. On Friday, the judge vacated another count of racketeering that could have exposed Jefferson to more prison time.
The two remaining charges on which Jefferson was convicted, involving bribery of foreign officials, had statutory maximum sentences of five years.
Prosecutors will not to attempt to retry Jefferson, and the government will keep $189,000 that the congressman forfeited as a fine. The government made that agreement with Jefferson’s attorneys earlier this week, and Ellis accepted the deal.
“This ends a long saga,” Ellis said after imposing the new sentence. He cautioned that his decision should not be read as approval of Jefferson’s conduct, which he described as “venal.”
The definition of what constitutes an "official act" taken by a politician in exchange for a bribe under which Jefferson was convicted stood for many decades, Ellis noted, until the prosecution of McDonnell.
“Public corruption is a cancer on this country and it needs to be revealed, prosecuted and punished,” the judge said. “I think it now has been.”
Jefferson will have to serve a year of supervised release, with permission necessary to travel. Attorney Robert Trout said in court that his client plans to spend his remaining years focused on his wife, five daughters and seven grandchildren.
Jefferson was released from prison in October after Ellis’s initial ruling, but it was not until Friday that he was taken off court monitoring and officially freed.
“I’m going to go back home and have a Christmas dinner with my family,” Jefferson said outside court. “Whatever they want me to cook.”
Asked whether he felt he did anything wrong, given that two of his corruption convictions still stand, he said there’s “no point in talking about that now.”