There must be some sort of greed virus that attacks those in power. — U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis
If the six-figure salary (not to mention the perks) that comes with being a member of the United States Congress isn’t enough, then holders of public office — and, presumably, public trust — should find some other line of work. And if there are still those (sadly, there are) considering getting into politics for private profit instead of public service, here’s hoping the fate of William Jefferson, the latest high-profile political looter to get caught with his hand in the public till, is an effective deterrent.
Jefferson is the veteran Louisiana Democrat who spawned a lot of bad “cold cash” jokes by hiding $90,000 worth of green in his freezer. Such shenanigans were a big part of the reason federal authorities began investigating Jefferson way back in 2005; prosecutors argued that the freezer money was intended for a bribe to the president of Nigeria for a multimillion-dollar telecommunications deal. A big part of the case against Jefferson was provided by a businesswoman who wore a wire when she felt she had been stiffed for some $3.5 million in similar deals Jefferson arranged.
The 20-year member of the House was indicted and convicted in August of 11 counts, including racketeering and bribery. It all came crashing down for real last Friday, when Jefferson was sentenced in federal court in Alexandria, Va., to 13 years in prison — reportedly the harshest punishment for corruption ever imposed on a member of Congress.
The presiding judge in Jefferson’s case, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, called the kind of crimes for which the lawmaker was convicted “a cancer on the body politic,” and indeed, it would be hard to find a more obvious source of public cynicism toward government than this kind of sleaze..
It could be debated whether Jefferson’s case is the worst — the prosecutor called it “the most extensive and pervasive pattern of corruption in the history of Congress” — but it’s hardly the first.
Americans have been all but numbed in recent years by a succession of scandals involving the likes of James Trafficant, Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Bob Ney, men who like Jefferson were entrusted with the authority to weigh in on the most important of public policy decisions, and instead earned only the most withering public contempt.
They are a disgrace to the principles of the institutions and the country they are supposed to have served, and the name of William Jefferson of Louisiana can now be written in their sorry roster.
Such betrayals merit neither sympathy nor leniency. Open the cell door and let this latest political thief start serving his time.
— Dusty Nix, for the editorial board