A former congressman convicted nearly a decade ago on bribery charges had his sentence reduced today to time served, knocking nearly eight years off a prison term in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling make it tougher to convict public officials of bribery.
The resentencing ended a 12-year legal saga for William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, whose case made headlines in 2005 after he was caught with $90,000 stashed in his freezer.
Jefferson walked out of an Alexandria courtroom a free man Friday, now facing only a year of post-release supervision after serving five years and five months of his original 13-year-prison sentence.
“I’m going to go back home and get a Christmas dinner,” a smiling Jefferson told reporters after today’s hearing.
Jefferson, 70, was convicted on 10 bribery-related counts in a 2009 trial. In October, though, the judge who sent him away ordered him freed. He said that a 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court overturning the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on corruption charges changed the law as to what constitutes an “official act” for which a public official can be charged with bribery.
The judge, T.S. Ellis III, tossed out seven of ten counts of conviction against Jefferson, and said Jefferson was entitled to a new sentencing hearing on the three counts that held up.
The new landscape prompted prosecutors and Jefferson’s lawyers to negotiate, and this week they jointly proposed a universal settlement in which Jefferson’s sentence would be reduced to time served plus a $189,000 fine, which amounts to what has already been collected on a $470,000 judgment entered at the time of his conviction.
At today’s hearing, Ellis had the option to impose a stiffer sentence, but said the negotiated deal represented a reasonable conclusion to the case.
Ellis emphasized, though, that he viewed Jefferson’s conduct as worse than what occurred in the McDonnell case. He added that Jefferson was still guilty of crime even under the stricter standard dictated by the Supreme Court.
“Public corruption is a cancer,” he said. “It needs to be prosecuted and punished.”