by The Times-Picayune
Tuesday June 09, 2009, 5:00 AM
-- A pool of 100 potential jurors will gather in the federal courthouse
in northern Virginia early today for the public corruption trial of
former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans.
Jefferson, who served nine terms in Congress before being ousted in
December, is accused of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and violation
of the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act for allegedly demanding and, in
some cases, accepting payments to family-owned businesses in return for
his help winning approval of projects in several West African nations.
If convicted, Jefferson, 62, would likely face up to 20 years in prison.
The trial is expected to last four to six weeks. The prosecution's case
will include some of the hundreds of hours of secretly recorded
conversations, many between Jefferson and Virginia businesswoman Lori
Mody, a disgruntled investor who became a cooperating witness for the
Defense attorneys have said that Jefferson's actions do not meet the
legal definition of public bribery because it does not involve "official
acts" -- votes, legislation or earmarks -- by Jefferson in exchange for
considerations. They say he was operating as a private citizen in
helping to broker deals for worthy businesses.
Judge T.S. Ellis III has said he will ask members of the jury pool if
they know Jefferson or others involved in the case and then require
those remaining to fill out a confidential questionnaire. Aided by the
questionnaire and jurors' responses to questions from prosecutors,
defense attorneys and the judge, a panel of 12 plus four alternates will
be selected, Ellis said.
The case is best-known for the $90,000 in marked bills FBI agents say
they found stuffed inside the freezer of Jefferson's home in Washington,
D.C., in 2005.
Jefferson has promised an honorable explanation for why the cash he took
from Mody ended up stored in his refrigerator.