Monday, July 13, 2009

William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson Goes to Court

This rather sneaky-looking fellow is my former Congressman, William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson.

Harvard law and Georgetown post-doc, he first went to Washington in 1991, having been elected as the first black Congressman to represent Louisiana since Reconstruction. Jefferson was no novice in governmental ins and outs, however; he had knocked around the state Capitol as a state Senator for twelve years and clerked for a federal judge. Once established in D.C., he worked himself into a pretty powerful position, serving on Ways and Means. You might also recall that he commandeered National Guard resources four days after Katrina to take him to his flooded Uptown home where he retrieved a number of personal items and managed to divert two military trucks and one Coast Guard helicopter from rescue operations while thousands remained stranded on rooftops.

Despite this elitist misappropriation of government assets, he was easily re-elected in the fall of 2006, and even though, suspecting him of engaging in bribery, the FBI had raided his Congressional offices in May 2006. (Don't ask me to explain Louisiana voters -- they defy explanation! See Edwin Edwards and David Duke).

Then, he messed up.

He got a little too greedy and, on June 4, 2007, a federal grand jury indicted Dollar Bill on sixteen counts related to corruption, telecommunications in Nigeria, and $90,000 in cold hard cash. Literally. Wrapped in foil and stuffed into pie crust and Boca burger boxes in his freezer. The source of the cash: an FBI sting operation that had him taking the marked bills to pass along to the former Nigerian Vice President as an "incentive" to grant a telecommunications license to a company in which he would ultimately have an ownership interest. Impressed?

The charges include Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, RICO stuff, and wire fraud, among others. He could get up to 20 years in a federal pen (just as one of his proteges, former City Councilman and once-expected successor to Mayor Ray Nagin -- another fine Louisiana politician --, Oliver Thomas, moves to a half-way house to complete his sentence for public corruption). Jefferson's trial began in Virginia on June 9th (happy anniversary gift to me!!!).

So far, his defense has centered around his fuzzy contention that "he was manipulated into accepting the money by [a woman wearing an FBI wire, on videotape] and that he did 'something stupid,' and took it," but he took it as a private citizen and not as a Congressman; a Congressman who has two influence-peddling pals who have already copped pleas to the deal. All of which is a fancy way of saying that his actions don't amount to public corruption. Yeah, like Joe Average has direct contact with the Vice President of Nigeria. I'd call that a Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot moment.

During his unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2008 (yeah -- we finally threw the sucker out!), he promised the people of the 2nd Congressional District "an honorable explanation" for the cash-sicles.

We're still waiting to hear. This should be good.