Louisiana congressman William Jefferson received more than $500,000 in bribes and sought millions more in nearly a dozen separate schemes to enrich himself by using his office to broker business deals in Africa, according to a federal indictment Monday.
The charges came almost two years after investigators raided Jefferson’s home in Washington and found $90,000 in cash stuffed in his freezer.
The indictment lists 16 counts, including racketeering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He faces a possible maximum sentence of 235 years.
He is the first U.S. official to face charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits corporate bribery overseas.
The schemes were complicated and Jefferson set up front companies to hide the money and disperse it to family members, prosecutors said.
“But the essence of the charges are really very simple: Mr. Jefferson corruptly traded on his good office and on the Congress,” said Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to push this week for Jefferson to be stripped of his seat on the Small Business Committee, according to a leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been announced.
“If these charges are proven true, they constitute an egregious and unacceptable abuse of public trust and power,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “Democrats are committed to upholding a high ethical standard and eliminating corruption and unethical behavior from the Congress.”
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said Jefferson should be expelled from Congress if he is found guilty and refuses to resign.
Jefferson, 60, whose congressional district includes New Orleans, has said little about the case publicly. He was re-elected last year despite the investigation.
Note: While a reporter in Louisiana I had several chances to interview Rep. Jefferson on television and radio!