The Case of the Frozen Assets

“They can beg and they can plead
But they can’t see the light, that’s right
Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always mister right…”

– Madonna, “Material Girl,” 1984

That’s it, right next to the Boca Burgers.  That’s the $90,000, in cash, the FBI found in former Representative William Jefferson’s freezer.

Wednesday afternoon the Democratic Representative from Louisiana was found guilty on 11 of 16 counts of bribery-related crimes.

“In a six-week trial,” the New York Times reported, “prosecutors said that from 2000 to 2005, Mr. Jefferson sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a dozen companies involved in oil, communications, sugar and other businesses, often for projects in Africa.

“In return, prosecutors said, Mr. Jefferson used his position as a member of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee to promote the companies’ ventures without disclosing his own financial stakes in the deals.”

“There are certainly two sides to this story,” Jefferson told reporters back in May 2006 in response to the charges.

Apparently, Mr. Jefferson did not feel the need to tell his side of the story to jurors, but rather relied on his attorney to do all the talking.  However, several former aides and business associates who pleaded guilty agreed to testify against him.  For their part in the scheme, Vernon L. Jackson and Brett Pfeffer are currently serving time in prison.

Jefferson was indicted in June 2007, “the first time a U.S. official,” the Washington Post said, “had been charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars bribery of foreign officials. He was acquitted of that charge.

“Prosecutors, who presented more than 40 witnesses at the trial, told jurors the attempted bribery of the Nigerian official was part of a pattern of illicit acts in which Jefferson used his position to direct about $400,000 in bribes, relating to business ventures he helped set up in Africa, to companies he set up in family members’ names.”

And what about Jefferson’s “frozen assets”?  Government prosecutors said that it had come from a Kentucky businessman and was earmarked to bribe a Nigerian official.

“Human frailty, greed and ruthlessness are freely distributed through the gene pool,” New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch reminds us. “We need to be neither cynical nor naïve, just mature enough to face the facts and keep going forward.”

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