In August 2009, former Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) was found guilty by a federal jury of a variety of charges (solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering, and conspiracy).
The jury found Jefferson not guilty of a substantive FCPA charge, a charge principally based on allegations that Jefferson attempted to bribe Nigerian officials (including the former Nigerian Vice President) to assist himself and others obtain or retain business for a Nigerian telecommunications joint venture. The famous “cash in the freezer” was allegedly part of the bribery scheme. (See here for prior post).
Just what conspiracy charge the jury found Jefferson guilty of was unclear.
The indictment charged conspiracy to solicit bribes, to commit honest services wire fraud, and to violate the FCPA.
Problem is, the jury was instructed, that to convict on this charge, it only needed to find Jefferson guilty on two out of three of those counts.
A recent article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (here) contains statements by “three jurors who spoke to The Times-Picayune on the condition they remain anonymous to avoid angering federal Judge T.S. Ellis III, who advised against talking to the news media.”
These anonymous juror statements, while clearly not official in any sense, may shed some light on Jefferson’s FCPA verdict.
For instance, why didn’t the jury convict Jefferson of the substantive FCPA offense?
According to the article, “because two members of the 12-member panel believed that the congressman planned to keep the money for himself rather than to bribe the vice president of Nigeria as alleged by federal prosecutors.”
The article states: “Two of the jurors explained the jury’s decision to return an innocent verdict on a single charge of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Jefferson was the first elected official ever charged with violating the law, which is intended to block payments of bribes by U.S. citizens to foreign officials. According to the interviews, two jurors expressed doubts that Jefferson actually intended to use the $100,000 in cash given to him by Mody to bribe Atiku Abubakar, then the vice president of Nigeria, as he said he would in the taped conversations. ‘I think there was some thought he intended to keep the money himself, and that’s not the crime he was accused of,’ said one juror who added that the remaining 10 jurors eventually went along with the sentiments of their two colleagues.”
What about the conspiracy conviction – did that conviction include conspiracy to violate the FCPA?
According to the jurors comments – yes.
The article states: “But jurors decided that his discussion about wanting to keep Abubakar happy was enough to support a charge of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
As the article notes: “The question about whether the jury found Jefferson guilty of conspiracy to solicit bribes domestically or internationally is important because, as part of Jefferson’s appeal, his attorneys contend that influencing foreign officials isn’t part of a congressional member’s official duties and therefore can’t be prosecuted under federal bribery laws.”
In November 2009, Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison. He remains free on bail while his appeal is pending.