For the last several hours, (and I'm certain for the next several as well,) Talk Radio has been abuzz with that very question. What sentence should be given to Former Louisiana State Senator/Former Louisiana Congressman/Convicted Felon William Jennings Jefferson? (Check out his Wiki page. They've already added "convicted felon" to it.) The 'Man-In-The-Street' has suggested everything from complete exoneration to the death penalty. I have the answer.
One year in jail for every year he pretended to be working for the people of Louisiana. While he was first elected to public office in 1979 he has only been a federal politician for eighteen years, from 1990 to 2008. The crimes in question come directly from his time spent as a member of the US House of Representatives and that's where my reasoning comes from. Eighteen years. Does he deserve more? Probably, but I think eighteen years is appropriate. He would be 80 at the time of his release.
If he lives that long.
No parole, no time off for good behaviour. Face it, the 'good behaviour' deal is actually geared toward violent offenders. It's a gift if they can manage to act like a human being. Jefferson is not a violent criminal and I don't expect him to start shivving prison guards ten minutes after he is placed in custody. Parole is derived from the French term for "(spoken) word." It became linked to prisoner release as the inmate in question gave their "word of honor" that they would not return to a life of crime. Bill Jefferson? Word of honor? Thank you for applying, next inmate, please.
The airwaves are filled with people who think that anything more than fifteen years would be excessive. Former US Attorney Harry Rosenberg posits that Jefferson will eventually receive between 10-15 years.
Comparisons have been drawn to Edwin Edwards who received ten years in prison for his roles in bribery schemes to award riverboat casino licenses in Louisiana. While the crimes may appear similar, at least Edwards was actually bringing businesses into the state and jobs to his constituents. Jefferson was buying himself and his family into foreign based businesses with no benefit whatsoever to the people he represented.
Comparisons have also been drawn to Bernie Madoff whose Ponzi Scheme siphoned over ten-billion dollars from unsuspecting investors. Madoff received a sentence of 150 years for his shenanigans which some people think is far worse than Jefferson's crimes. They claim that Jefferson never harmed or killed anyone by accepting bribes. I think they're wrong.
While Jefferson never actually pulled a trigger or slit a throat, money that he and his family collected through Federal Government grants intended for the numerous "non-profit" organizations they own ended up lining their own pockets. Money which could have been the difference between a child picking up a pen, brush or math book instead of a gun or a crack pipe. Can you honestly tell me, with a straight face, that Bill Jefferson's actions caused harm to no-one?
For those of you thinking that eighteen years is too light a sentence, remember there's the forfeiture. The thinking here is that Jefferson will end up having to forfeit at least a half a million dollars which he and his family members profited through his shady dealings. I think that's abysmally low. Let's set a precedent and force him to pay back the Federal Government every cent he made from his salary as a congressman. Let's make that the rule of law for any public official convicted of corruption. Jefferson's forfeiture hearing is set for today.
Jefferson's actions have cast doubt on his entire career of "public service" and for that, he should pay dearly and lose his entire paycheck from his "service" on Capitol Hill. That would add just over 2.7 million dollars to his forfeiture, and for Bill Jefferson, a man who worships the all-mighty dollar, that would hurt him more than any prison term.
UPDATE: Jefferson's forfeiture hearing ran its course today, and as expected he will have to cough up over $470 million, plus millions of shares of (now worthless) stock in a (now defunct) Nigerian telecom company. Next up is his sentencing, scheduled for October 30th.