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Rep. Jefferson Indicted on Fraud, Bribery Counts

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

And I'm Rebecca Roberts.

The congressman with cash in his freezer has been indicted. Today, a federal grand jury charged New Orleans Democrat William Jefferson with running an international scheme arranging trade deals in exchange for bribes.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: It was not quite two years ago that FBI agents said they found $90,000 in Jefferson's home freezer. An agent said in an affidavit that after they searched his house in Washington, D.C., they easily traced the marked bills back to a bribe that Jefferson had been videotaped accepting a few days earlier.

This afternoon, U.S. attorney Chuck Rosenberg said it's one element of the indictment.

Mr. CHUCK ROSENBERG (U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Texas): Mr. Jefferson secreted in his freezer at his Washington, D.C. residence $90,000 of the $100,000 in cash that the cooperating witness had given to him. The $90,000 was separated into $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and concealed inside various frozen food containers.

OVERBY: Now, that alleged payoff is contained in an indictment that runs for 16 counts and 94 pages. It accuses Jefferson of soliciting money from 11 companies mainly in the United States but also in several African countries. Some of the money allegedly went to government officials in Nigeria. The Justice Department says that nearly $400,000 went to Jefferson himself and to members of his family.

The indictment also says that companies wanting Jefferson's help were pressured into lopsided contracts with some of eight companies controlled by Jefferson's family. Again, U.S. attorney chuck Rosenberg.

Mr. ROSENBERG: The alleged criminal behavior is spread over time and distance. But the essence of the charges in this case are really rather simple. Mr. Jefferson corruptly traded on his good office and on the Congress where he served as a member of the United States House of Representatives to enrich himself and his family through a pervasive pattern of fraud, bribery and corruption that spanned many years and two continents.

OVERBY: The case has been hanging over the congressman like a sword. A former congressional aide and a businessman are in prison after admitting they were in a bribe scheme with him. A year ago, the FBI raided his congressional office for documents. That set off illegal battles that stalled the case for months.

Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, head of the Criminal Division, toady expressed no second thoughts about that raid.

Ms. ALICE FISHER (Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice): At the time we conducted the search, we believed that the search was necessary, appropriate and constitutional. We continue to believe that it's necessary, appropriate and constitutional.

OVERBY: But officials said they can make their case against Jefferson without the documents from Capitol Hill. Jefferson was once a rising young star in the House. Elected in 1990 and given a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. House Democrats took that away from him after the office raid. Still, he won reelection last fall.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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