ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Ex-New Orleans Congressman Bill Jefferson walked out of a suburban Washington courthouse Friday owing no further obligations to the United States government, aside from monthly check-ins with a federal parole officer.
The five years and five months Jefferson spent in prison, as well as the $189,215.42 the feds seized from his bank accounts, served as enough punishment for Jefferson’s corruption convictions, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled.
The judge signed off on an agreement between Jefferson’s attorneys and federal prosecutors letting the disgraced former lawmaker walk away from the public corruption case against him after serving less than half of his original prison sentence.
“So, Mr. Jefferson, this ends a long saga,” Ellis said as Jefferson, his balding head shaved smooth and shoulders stooped slightly, stood before him. “You have paid your debt."
The former nine-term Democratic congressman was toppled from power a decade ago amid high-profile FBI raids on his home and congressional offices. Agents had secretly recorded meetings between Jefferson and a wealthy Virginia businesswoman acting as an FBI informant, eventually capturing Jefferson on video accepting a suitcase with $100,000 in cash in a suburban hotel room.
Agents later found $90,000 of the money in Jefferson’s freezer, wrapped in tinfoil and stuffed inside frozen food boxes. The raid garnered national headlines and left Jefferson’s reputation in tatters.
During the trial, prosecutors sought to present evidence that Jefferson accepted the cash in exchange for abusing his elected office to broker a series of prospective business deals in Africa potentially worth millions.
WASHINGTON — Disgraced ex-Congressman Bill Jefferson, whose downfall more than a decade ago came after federal agents found $90,000 in cash st…
Ellis, who presided over Jefferson’s trial and originally sentenced him to 13 years in federal prison, threw out seven of the ten counts against Jefferson in October in light of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring federal prosecutors to do more to prove public officials had abused their positions in corruption cases. The decision, which vacated the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, triggered a wave of appeals from other former public officials.
The judge also ordered Jefferson to be released early from federal prison.
Jefferson, however, had faced the prospect of returning to prison. Ellis left three counts of the conviction standing, each of which carried a potential prison term well beyond the five years Jefferson spent locked up.
At Friday’s hearing, Jefferson said little, instead letting his attorneys — both of whom represented him during his eight-week trial — do the talking.
The defense team asked Ellis not to put Jefferson on supervised release, saying the 70-year-old grandfather wanted to be free to visit his five daughters and seven grandchildren scattered across the country. Federal prosecutors took no position on the request.
But Ellis ordered Jefferson to check in with a probation officer within the first five days of every month and seek permission to travel outside the New Orleans area. He’s also expected to avoid convicted felons and anyone else “engaged in criminal activity,” Ellis said.
The judge did, however, allow Jefferson to shed his ankle monitor during his year of supervision.
Jefferson offered his gratitude to friends, relatives and supporters who’d stood by him over the years while speaking to reporters outside the courtroom. The former politician said he plans to stay retired from public life but hopes to become involved in the community and his local church.
Cooking a Christmas dinner for family at home in New Orleans is what he’s most looking forward to, Jefferson said. He laughed when one reporter asked if he anticipated better eating in the Crescent City than during his half-decade behind bars.
“I don’t have time to be angry with anything,” Jefferson said when asked if he harbored bitterness about his time in prison. Jefferson maintained his innocence in the case even after his conviction but declined Friday morning to say whether he did anything wrong.
As part of the deal with prosecutors, Jefferson accepted his conviction on two federal conspiracy counts and agreed not to file any further appeals in the case. Ellis, in signing off on the agreement, noted that federal sentencing guidelines recommend 8 to 10 years in prison on those two charges.
The judge called it a fair resolution for everyone involved. Yet Ellis still castigated the ex-lawmaker’s actions as “venal” in handing down the lesser sentence.