“Cold Cash” Jefferson Gets 13-Year Jail Term
Barack Obama tried hard not to fall prey to the system and syndrome of graft in his adopted state of Illinois. He had a lot of temptations–and opportunities to feed at the public trough–but he managed to shy away from the most egregious. I think Obama is relatively clean–but not squeeky clean–for a politician. More to the point, he’s hasn’t allowed his ego to take advantage of his life (like the greasy embarrassment Rod Blagojevich) or his aims. However, as a result, Illinois is in arrears by several billion dollars because of the culture of graft in that state, practiced by both Democrats and Republicans. This has added to the financial woes of the state during what is being called the Great Recession.
That being said, there are several big name black politicians who are currently being investigated for questionable practices and ethics violations, lawmakers like Maxine Waters, Charlie Rangel, and Carolyn Kilpatrick. (Jesse Jackson, Jr. barely missed being named as an eighth offender.) Some feel that they are being unfairly singled out because of racism, because of double standards, and because of the state of their relationship(s) with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is considered no friend to black congresspeople. They are quick to point out that Pelosi’s ethics committee hasn’t fingered any white congresspeople like Jane Harman or John Murtha, who have “enough money to defend” themselves.
Far be it for me to support Pelosi’s shenanigans; I haven’t liked her since she was a bottom-feeding protegée of Willie Brown and the Burton brothers in the San Francisco of the Seventies and Eighties. But I still believe that some of the seven ought to have known better. Like I said, their egos got in the way of their lives or aims. One great, but overweening example of ego was the late Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem. Sometimes that ego was warranted as when he integrated the congressional lunch room, or made lawmakers stop saying the n-word on the floor, but at other times, like the incident that sealed Powell’s Waterloo, it paid to take oneself down a peg, and apologize.
And I had the feeling that unless something changed tomorrow, black people in politics–as with everything else–would always be judged by a different standard. Which meant that they could not insist on the same kinds of breaks–or hypocrisies–that whites may have enjoyed. (Frankly, is that really going to liberate them or us?) Somehow the law of averages was bound to catch up with them, no matter how rich, powerful or important they have become or whatever good they have done or achieved for their constituents, or who was Speaker of the House.
I think that it caught up last week with former Louisiana Rep. William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson, 62, who received thirteen years for bribery in “a conspiracy so immense” of corruption that U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III lamented that, “There must be some sort of greed virus that attacks those in power.” Huh. It certainly is a fall from a great height achieved when in 1991, Jefferson became the first African American congressman since Reconstruction from his district.
Jefferson, who famously squirreled away $90,000 in his freezer, earning him the new nickname “Cold Cash,” was convicted of receiving $500,000 and would have received millions more for whetting his business deals in Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria. Prosecutors originally wanted Jefferson to serve 27 years, a stint that might have lasted the rest of his life. It’s not that Jefferson killed anybody, but perhaps his actions might have killed delayed and killed hopes, which is almost the same.
Jefferson was allowed to remain free until a hearing next week. Prosecutors want him to begin serving his sentence immediately, while the defense wants Jefferson to remain free while he appeals his conviction.
Jefferson was also ordered to forfeit roughly $470,000 in bribery proceeds — the government expects to seize Jefferson’s retirement savings and other assets to enforce the judgment. Jefferson, meanwhile, has filed for bankruptcy protection and his wife is claiming rights to some of those assets.
Jefferson was convicted in August of 11 counts, including bribery and racketeering, and acquitted on five others, including the one most closely associated with the money in his freezer.
The investigation started in March 2005. In August of that year, FBI agents searched Jefferson’s Washington home and found the cash. Prosecutors said he had planned to use the money to pay a bribe to the then-vice president of Nigeria to secure a multimillion-dollar telecommunications deal there, an accusation Jefferson denied.
The money ended up in the freezer when a disgruntled businesswoman, Lori Mody, agreed to wear a wire after telling the FBI she had been cheated out of $3.5 million in deals brokered by Jefferson. The jury saw videotape of Mody handing over a suitcase filled with $100,000 cash outside an Arlington hotel. Most of that money was recovered from the freezer.
So he’s ruined, his wife is scrambling for whatever crumbs he has left after the bankruptcy and the Feds get through with him, and in any case, he’s still appealing what would be the longest jail term handed to a former congressperson. What can be learned from all this? A former constituent, Songy Turner of Marrero, LA had an answer. “I’m really hoping that the newer politicians, the younger politicians, really consider being honest, really take their job seriously and make an effort to make Louisiana honest.” Easier said than done? Many people like Turner felt as if New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s recovery from the ravages of Katrina was hampered by the Jefferson case. Jefferson was succeeded in office by maverick Republican Anh Joseph Cao, who appears to really represent the interests of black people as well as other people of color in the district, despite pressure from his fellow Republicans.
In other words, don’t ever think that as a politician, you aren’t expendable, “too big to fail,” or bulletproof. Your job is not simply for yourself, but for the people who voted for you. It always is. It always will be.