Former Congressman Jefferson Found Guilty Former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was found guilty Wednesday of taking bribes. A federal jury convicted the Democrat on 11 of 16 counts in a case in which agents found $90,000 in his freezer.
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Former Congressman Jefferson Found Guilty

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Former Congressman Jefferson Found Guilty

Former Congressman Jefferson Found Guilty

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Former Congressman William Jefferson, a Democrat from New Orleans, was convicted today on 11 felony corruption counts. You may remember Jefferson as the congressman who was found to have $90,000 in cash in his freezer.

Jefferson's case was heard by a federal jury in Northern Virginia, and here to talk about the case is NPR's Peter Overby.

Peter, was this a surprise, this verdict?

PETER OVERBY: No. It was not. Basically, this case came to the courtroom on a silver platter. You had the money in the freezer with photographs of it. The money came from a bribe. It was a sting, money paid to Jefferson in a briefcase in a trunk of a car. There was video of him reaching into the trunk, taking the briefcase out.

And then, there was a paper trail of many other cases resembling this, going back for several years. So it was a pretty strong case.

BRAND: There was, though, a lot of controversy, I remember at the time, because the Justice Department and the FBI searched his congressional office as well as his home, and there was evidence that they collected there. What happened to that evidence?

OVERBY: It was thrown out. This was a groundbreaking move that they took, and it didn't work. Justice had wanted the office to be presented to the jury as the locale of a criminal enterprise, so that's why they went there. And it produced a long appeals process, and they lost.

BRAND: So, when the case finally went to trial, the prosecution presented its case for more than a month, and the defense just a couple of hours, I understand.

OVERBY: That's right.

BRAND: Why? Why just a few hours?

OVERBY: You'd have to ask them. But basically, you know, they had the video to deal with, they had the photos to deal with. They presented Mr. Jefferson as a businessman who was also a member of Congress. So, you know, sometimes he was doing official acts, which they said are very well-defined in a bribery statute. And a lot of other times, including everything in the case, was business that was not official and therefore, shouldn't be prosecuted. That was the gist of their defense.

BRAND: And Peter, I'm just curious. Did he ever provide an explanation as to why that $90,000 was in his freezer?

OVERBY: There were a couple of explanations. One of them was on videotape, when he told the businesswoman that was giving him the money that he was going to use it to bribe a government official in Africa that had to do with a business deal, U.S. company in Africa.

What his defense attorneys told the jury was that the businesswoman was very high-strung, needed a lot of reassurance and calming. And he took the money to just - to keep her on an even keel. And they argued that he did a lot of things to keep her calmed down. But Jefferson himself never testified in court.

BRAND: All right. Thank you, Peter.

OVERBY: You're welcome.

BRAND: That's NPR Peter Overby. We've been talking about the conviction today of former Democratic congressman William Jefferson from New Orleans, convicted today on 11 felony corruption counts.

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