End of the Road

Published: November 18, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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“What he has accomplished is really nothing short of extraordinary.  We are not saying that this extraordinary story should give him a pass.”

Those “extraordinary” words were spoken by defense attorney Robert P. Trout regarding his client, former congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana, asking the judge to take into account Jefferson’s life story before sentencing.

In response, prosecutors pointed out that inspite of his story, Jefferson “still chose to cheat, steal and lie, [and] has still not accepted responsibility for his own criminal conduct.  He still rationalizes his own unethical, illegal and immoral conduct.”

Found guilty of 11 counts of corruption, Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison “for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes,” The Washington Post reported, “the longest prison term ever handed down to a member of Congress convicted of corruption charges.”

At the time of his arrest, Jefferson had told reporters that, “There are certainly two sides to this story,” then chose not to tell his side to jurors.

According to a CNN report, “Jefferson was also ordered to forfeit more than $470,000… for using his office to solicit bribes, [and] will also have to pay $1,100 in special assessments.”

Although it may be the end of the road for Jefferson it won’t be the end of his paycheck.  According to CNN reporter Joe Johns, “Jefferson is still eligible to receive a full congressional pension for the rest of his life.”  That’s $40,000.00 per year.

“Wait a minute,” Johns says. “Two years ago Congress passed a law called the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.”

True enough, but the Constitution prohibits any law from being enforced retroactively.  So, Jefferson, along with former U.S. Representatives “Duke” Cunningham, Jim Traficant and Dan Rostenkowski will continue to receive government pensions because their crimes were committed before the law was passed.

In handing down the sentence Judge T.S. Ellis III told Jefferson that he has “led an extraordinary life and has accomplished a great deal.” But he added: “It makes this event all the sadder for me and many people.

“Public corruption is a cancer,” Judge Ellis said, “and it needs to be surgically removed.”

The good news:  In December 2008, Jefferson was defeated by Republican Joseph Cao, the first Vietnamese American to serve in Congress. Congressman Cao has already demonstrated that his conscience and the needs of his constituents come before partisanship or corruption.

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