ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Federal prosecutors are recommending that a former Louisiana congressman serve no more jail time now that many of the convictions against him have been overturned.
William Jefferson, 70, a Democrat who represented parts of New Orleans, has served more than five years of a 13-year sentence after being convicted on bribery charges. His case garnered headlines in 2005 after he was caught hiding $90,000 cash in his freezer following a government sting.
He was released from prison last month. A judge ruled that seven counts of conviction against him should be tossed out because of a recent Supreme Court ruling making it more difficult to convict public officials on bribery charges, and that he was entitled to a new sentencing hearing on the remaining three conviction counts.
Jefferson’s new sentencing hearing is scheduled for Friday.
In a court document made public Thursday, prosecutors indicate that they and defense attorneys will jointly recommend a sentence of time served. The recommendation also leaves in place a $189,000 fine, which amounts to what has already been collected on a $470,000 judgment that was entered back when Jefferson was convicted in 2009.
Under the agreement, the most serious of the three remaining counts, a racketeering charge, would be dismissed. Prosecutors would also agree not to seek retrial on the seven counts the judge has already tossed out.
The two lesser counts, conspiracy charges, would remain in place and Jefferson would agree not to seek to have them tossed out.
The judge, though, will not be bound by the recommendation at Friday’s hearing. Theoretically he could reimpose the 13-year sentence he initially handed down.
If the judge imposes additional jail time, Jefferson will have the right to back out of the agreement and could seek to have the remaining counts overturned.
Jefferson was convicted of accepting more than $400,000 in bribes and seeking millions more in exchange for brokering business deals in Africa. The 2005 raid of his Washington home that turned up cash stuffed in frozen food boxes made him fodder for late-night comedians.
Last month, U.S. Senior Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that a new sentencing hearing is necessary because the Supreme Court has subsequently changed what constitutes “an official act” for which a public official can be convicted of bribery. He ordered that Jefferson be freed from custody while awaiting resentencing.
Jefferson’s lawyer, Robert Trout, moved last year to have Jefferson’s convictions overturned after the Supreme Court unanimously tossed out the convictions against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. That case redefined what constitutes an official act under the federal bribery laws. The high court ruled in the McDonnell case that acts like setting up meetings or talking to other officials are insufficient to constitute acceptance of a bribe in exchange for an official act.
Judge Ellis has said the cases were very different.
“The Supreme Court described Governor McDonnell’s actions as ‘tawdry’ and ‘distasteful,'” Ellis wrote. “Jefferson’s actions went well beyond being ‘tawdry’ and ‘distasteful’; they were plainly venal and reflected corrupt intent.”