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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Clears Path For Jefferson Bribery Trial

(CN) - A federal appeals court in Virginia upheld the grand-jury indictment of a Rep. William J. Jefferson on charges that he participated in various bribery schemes.

In June 2007, a grand jury indicted the Democratic congressman in a federal court in Virginia. He allegedly played a role in seven different bribery schemes, each involving him taking bribes from companies in exchange for promoting their products and services to government officials in Africa.

The indictment charges him with two conspiracy offenses and 14 other offenses.

Jefferson challenged the indictment on the basis that the grand jury had considered evidence from former staffer Brett Pfeffer, who allegedly testified about Jefferson's privileged legislative acts.

In response, the prosecution provided the Louisiana legislator with more than 600 pages of grand-jury transcripts - specifically the testimony of his current and former staff members.

Jefferson's lawyers reviewed the documents and cited three excerpts that allegedly violated the Speech and Debate Clause by referring to legislative activity.

The 4th Circuit backed the district court's decision to uphold the indictment.

Judge King cited the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Brewster, which outlined some of the limitations of legislative immunity.

"Importantly, the (Supreme) Court has consistently emphasized that legislative immunity does not shield a congressman or senator who has sought to improperly influence an executive department or agency," King wrote.

The ruling clears the path for a trial. If convicted of all charges, Jefferson faces up to 235 years in prison.

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