(Stuart Green) One of the reasons that I merely teach and write about white collar crime, rather than actually represent any white collar defendants, is that I lack the kind of imagination and hubris that are necessary to do a really effective job at the latter. Consider the task confronting lawyers for Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson, charged last week with sixteen counts of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, racketeering, and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Jefferson, alleged to be at the center of a complex scheme of using his influence as co-chair of the congressional Africa Investment and Trade Caucus to broker deals in various African nations and demand kickbacks for himself and family members, was caught on camera in a hotel garage accepting a payment of payment of $100,000 from an FBI informant, and later found to have $90,000 in marked bills in the freezer of his Washington home.
Jefferson has now pled not guilty. If you were Jefferson’s defense lawyer, what kind of defense would you offer? As I say, I doubt I’m clever enough to come up with a very good answer. But, based on statements by Jefferson and his lawyers, we can discern the foundation for an interesting two-pronged strategy.
The first prong is the classic “this was merely aggressive business behavior rather than criminal conduct” defense that is so often used in white collar cases (and which, if you’ll excuse some self-promotion, is dealt with extensively in my recent book). In bribery cases, defendants typically argue that alleged bribes were really just campaign contributions. Given the nature of the payments here, that defense seems all but impossible. Instead, Jefferson apparently intends to make the only slightly more plausible argument that, in representing various American companies that were interested in doing business in Africa, he was acting as a private businessman rather than as a member of Congress.