|Jefferson's push to get rid of 5 fraud counts rejected|
Judge: Accusations include 'official acts'
Thursday, July 10, 2008
By Bruce Alpert
WASHINGTON -- U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III on Wednesday rejected Rep. William Jefferson's request to drop five wire fraud charges included in the government's 16-count corruption indictment against him.
The ruling represents the final pre-trial issue that could be appealed to a higher court.
A hearing by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has been scheduled for Sept. 24 on Jefferson's appeal of a previous Ellis ruling in which the judge refused to throw out some other charges against the New Orleans Democrat on grounds the grand jury heard descriptions of his legislative duties.
Ellis disagreed with Jefferson that the descriptions violated the Constitution's speech or debate clause intended to protect Congress from undue interference from the executive branch.
In his ruling Wednesday, Ellis refused to throw out five counts of the 16-count indictment that accuse Jefferson of five separate wire communications in furtherance of a scheme in which the government accuses him of soliciting things of value in return for using his office to advance the business interests of some individuals and corporations.
Jefferson's attorneys argued that the government failed to identify any "official acts" the congressman performed and therefore the charges should be dropped. They also said the charges relate to the Justice Department's interpretation of certain House of Representatives rules, which are enforceable only by Congress.
In his ruling, Ellis found that the government listed accusations that do include official acts, including "correspondence and meetings with foreign government officials."
Robert Trout, Jefferson's lead defense attorney, and attorneys for the Justice Department all declined to comment. If Jefferson does appeal and it is accepted by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., the three-judge panel could conceivably combine it with the appeal now slated for oral arguments on Sept. 24. Or it could schedule a second hearing later, which would almost certainly delay the scheduled Dec. 2 start of his criminal trial.
Jefferson has filed papers as a Democratic candidate for re-election in the 2nd Congressional District. He is seeking a 10th term in Congress.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 383-7861.