U.S. v. Jefferson, No. 09-5130

Decided Mar. 26, 2012

William J. Jefferson, a longtime Congressman from Louisiana, was convicted of eleven counts of a sixteen-count indictment. Jefferson was convicted of “conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery, money laundering, and racketeering.” Before trial, Jefferson moved to dismiss the bribery charges, arguing that he had not received anything in the course of performing “official acts,” which, according to Jefferson, only included matters brought before Congress such as pending legislation. The district court rejected this interpretation and held that “official acts” constituted those things that are understood to be customarily associated with an official’s duties.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed this holding. The court held that the Birdsall principle, which was not overturned by Sun-Diamond, controlled and therefore the district court’s “settled practice” definition of official acts that complied with Birdsall was proper. The court also affirmed the district court’s “quid pro quo” instruction, following the Second Circuit’s analysis, that “in order to establish the quid pro quo essential to proving bribery, the government need not show that the defendant intended for his payments to be tied to specific official acts (or omissions) . . . [because] bribery can be accomplished through an ongoing course of conduct.” Additionally, the court held that while the self-dealing portion of the instruction regarding honest services wire fraud was error under Skilling, it was harmless. Finally, the court vacated Jefferson’s conviction for wire fraud because of improper venue; the call was placed in Africa and received in Kentucky, giving it no connection to the Eastern District of Virginia.

Full Opinion

-C. Alexander Cable

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