Federal prosecutors laid out their bribery case against former U.S. representative William J. Jefferson yesterday, telling jurors that he squeezed hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from people who sought his help, while the defense said that Jefferson might have committed unethical acts but that they were not illegal.
“A lot of what you hear you will disapprove of,” said defense attorney Robert P. Trout, who acknowledged that Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, benefited from business deals he helped broker in Africa. “But he’s not charged with a violation of House ethics rules. He is accused of a crime,” Trout said…
The FBI raided Jefferson’s Capitol Hill home in 2005 and famously found $90,000 wrapped in foil and stuffed in food containers in a freezer. The money was supposedly going to then-Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar as a bribe to facilitate a business deal. Prosecutors showed the jury pictures of frozen food containers — for Boca Burgers and Pillsbury pie crust — in which the money was stashed. “It is a startling and often disheartening account of public corruption at the highest level of our government,” said prosecutor Mark Lytle, who asked, “How did we get to the point where a sitting U.S. congressman had $90,000 hidden and concealed in his freezer?”
Trout told the jury that the money in the freezer had received so much publicity that he contemplated opening his statement with “a joke about the cold cash.” Instead, he offered this explanation: “He was looking to hide the cash . . . so it would not be found by the housekeeper or an intruder.”