Mose Jefferson, a political operative and brother of former Democrat U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, was sentenced by a federal judge on Thursday to 10 years in prison for bribing an Orleans Parish School Board member and trying to persuade her to cover up the scheme.
In addition, U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon ordered Jefferson to pay a $175,000 fine and $913,000 in restitution to the school board.
The 10-year sentence is the maximum allowable under federal law and is among the longest ever handed down in a Louisiana public corruption case.
William Jefferson also made history when he received a 13-year sentence in November for soliciting bribes in connection with business dealings in west Africa -- by far the harshest punishment for crimes committed while a member of Congress.
Lemmon did not elaborate on her decision, saying only, "The maximum is appropriate under the facts of the case."
She will allow Jefferson, 67, to remain free until the conclusion of his federal trial on a separate set of racketeering charges alleging that he conspired with three others, including his sister and niece, to steal money from non profits created to help needy people.
During Thursday's sentencing, Jefferson handed Lemmon a copy of a polygraph exam that he said proved his innocence.
"Most of my life, I've been trying to help people, to do what I thought was right and feed my children, as my parents did," he said. "I want people to know that I did not do this."
Jefferson's attorney, Mike Fawer, accused the judge of favoring the prosecution, both in giving Jefferson the maximum and in refusing his request to delay the hearing.
"Yeah, I thought it was harsh," Fawer said of the sentence. "Am I surprised? No. Was it unreasonable and unfair? Yeah."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone said he could not comment because the second trial is pending, but he called the sentence "just."
William Jefferson had the limelight as the congressman from New Orleans, but Mose, schooled in the rough and tumble world of Chicago politics, was the architect of his brother's rise. Now, unless their appeals are successful, both Jefferson brothers will be doing significant time in federal prison.
The family of nine brothers and sisters rose from a small farm in Lake Providence to fame and fortune in the big city, but the political machine they built has disintegrated in a wave of federal prosecutions.
Another Jefferson sibling, 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson, will go on trial in March in the racketeering case along with Mose, her daughter Angela Coleman and former state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt.
On Aug. 21, just two weeks after his younger brother William was convicted by a Virginia jury, Mose Jefferson was found guilty on two counts of bribery and two counts of obstruction of justice in connection with $100,000 he gave to then-school board member Ellenese Brooks-Simms.
He was acquitted of a third bribery count involving a $40,000 payment to Brooks-Simms after she left the school board.
Prosecutors claimed the payments were in return for Brooks-Simms' support of an algebra tutorial program, "I CAN Learn," while Jefferson said the $140,000 was a gift to help Brooks-Simms out of her financial troubles.
In 2003 and 2004, the school board approved nearly $14 million to purchase the math materials, with Jefferson pocketing more than $900,000 in commissions.
Brooks-Simms later betrayed her benefactor, wearing a wiretap that captured Jefferson repeatedly urging her to throw federal investigators off the scent by fabricating stories about the payments. When the conversations took place in May 2007, Jefferson was unaware that Brooks-Simms had already pleaded guilty and was cooperating with the FBI.
During the trial, Jefferson testified that he had an affair with Brooks-Simms in the 1980s, in an attempt to bolster his claim that he was trying to help a longtime friend.
Brooks-Simms deposited some of the money in a bank account in her daughter's name and gave a portion to the daughter, Stacy Simms, who pleaded guilty to failing to report the crimes to federal authorities. Both women are scheduled to be sentenced on March 11.
A Norco businessman, Burnell Moliere, pleaded guilty to "structuring" bank deposits involving the $40,000 payment and was sentenced in November to three years of probation.
On Thursday, prosecutors called Mose Jefferson "flush with assets" and a flight risk, arguing that he should produce a surety bond before being released.
But Lemmon merely ordered Jefferson to surrender by March 29. The date can be extended if the racketeering trial, which begins on March 22 and is expected to last four to six weeks, has not finished, she said.
Loyola Law School professor Dane Ciolino said the 10-year sentence is not surprising, considering the large sums of money involved and Jefferson's failure to admit to his crimes.
"In this case, there was neither acceptance nor cooperation, and there were significant dollar amounts involved," Ciolino said.
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