William J. Jefferson

"Bill Jefferson" redirects here. For the American baseball pitcher, see Bill Jefferson (baseball).
Bill Jefferson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1991  January 3, 2009
Preceded by Lindy Boggs
Succeeded by Joseph Cao
Member of the Louisiana Senate
from the 5th district
In office
January 1979  January 1991
Preceded by Frederick Eagan
Succeeded by Diana Bajoie
Personal details
Born William Jennings Jefferson
(1947-03-14) March 14, 1947
Lake Providence, Louisiana, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Andrea Jefferson
Children Jamila
Alma mater Southern University
Harvard University
Georgetown University
Religion Baptist
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1969–1975
Rank Second Lieutenant
Unit United States Army Reserve

William Jennings "Bill" Jefferson (born March 14, 1947) is an American former politician and convicted felon from the U.S. state of Louisiana. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for nine terms from 1991 to 2009 as a member of the Democratic Party. He represented Louisiana's 2nd congressional district, which includes much of the greater New Orleans area. He was Louisiana's first black congressman since the end of Reconstruction.[1]

On November 13, 2009, Jefferson was sentenced to thirteen years in federal prison for bribery after a corruption investigation,[2] the longest sentence ever handed down to a congressman for bribery or any other crime. He began serving that sentence in May 2012 at a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Beaumont, Texas.

Early life and family

Jefferson was born in Lake Providence, the parish seat of East Carroll Parish in far northeastern Louisiana, where he and his eight brothers and sisters worked alongside their father – a farmer and a heavy-equipment operator for the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The Jeffersons were among the few African-American families in the area who actually owned their land (as opposed to sharecropping), which gave them a certain degree of respectability in the community. Nonetheless, he grew up in an environment of poverty.[3]

In 1969, Jefferson received a bachelor's degree from historically black Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he had participated in Army ROTC; in 1969 he led a protest against substandard campus facilities and negotiated a resolution of the complaint with then-Governor John J. McKeithen. On graduation from Southern University he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army and served in a reserve capacity until 1975.[4] In 1972, he earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. In 1996, he received a LLM in taxation from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. In 1972 and 1973 Jefferson began the practice of law, having initially served as a clerk for Judge Alvin Benjamin Rubin of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Jefferson is the brother of New Orleans assessor Betty Jefferson, a Democratic field operative; convicted felons Mose Jefferson and Archie Jefferson;[5] and Brenda Jefferson Foster. He is the uncle of Angela Coleman.

Jefferson and his wife, Andrea Jefferson, have five daughters: Jamila Jefferson-Jones, Jalila Jefferson-Bullock (a former Louisiana State Representative), Jelani Jefferson Exum (a professor of law at the University of Toledo), Nailah Jefferson (a documentary filmmaker), and Akilah Jefferson. Jamila, Jalila, and Jelani are all graduates of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Nailah is a graduate of Boston University and Emerson College. Akilah, a graduate of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, attends the Tulane University School of Medicine.

Political career in New Orleans

From 1973 to 1975, Jefferson was a legislative assistant to Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Louisiana. Jefferson moved to New Orleans in 1976 and was elected to the Louisiana Senate in 1979, where he served until 1990. He twice unsuccessfully ran for New Orleans mayor, having, along with Ron Faucheux, first challenged Dutch Morial in the election of 1982, and then being defeated by Sidney Barthelemy in the mayoral runoff of 1986.[6] During the 1982 mayoral race, Morial attacked Jefferson by calling him "Dollar Bill" – a nickname which has stuck to this day. Still, Jefferson was considered a rising star in Louisiana politics, with some even suggesting he would be his state's second African-American governor.[3]

In 1990, midway through his third term in the state senate, Jefferson ran in the jungle primary for Louisiana's 2nd congressional district seat after 10-term incumbent Lindy Boggs announced her retirement. He finished first in the seven-candidate field with 24 percent of the vote. In the runoff, he defeated Marc Morial, the son of Dutch Morial, with 52 percent of the vote. He was reelected seven times.

In the House, Jefferson joined the Congressional Black Caucus.[7] He considered running for Governor in 1995 but ultimately did not do so.

Jefferson ran for governor of Louisiana in the 1999 Louisiana gubernatorial election, and was the de facto "official" Democratic candidate. However, he lost badly to incumbent Republican Murphy J. Foster, Jr., having tallied only 29.5 percent of the vote and carrying only New Orleans (coextensive with Orleans Parish) and his native East Carroll Parish, whose seat is Lake Providence.

Local influence

Jefferson and his family controlled one of the most sophisticated and effective get-out-the-vote organizations in South Louisiana – the Progressive Democrats – the foil to which is the Black Organization for Leadership Development, founded by Jefferson nemeses Ken Carter and Jim Singleton. In 2002, the Progressive Democrats' support helped elect Jefferson's protégée Renée Gill Pratt to the New Orleans City Council. Jefferson's daughter Jalila was defeated by Rosalind Peychaud in a special election for Gill Pratt's District 91 seat in the Louisiana State House, but subsequently defeated Peychaud in the next regular election. Jefferson's Progressive Democrats organization also contributed to the election of Jefferson's sister Betty, as a municipal assessor, in 1998, 2002 and 2006. New Orleans politics substantially changed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with many former voters no longer in the city. Laura Maggi has described Mose Jefferson as "the man responsible for running the Progressive Democrats street operation" in New Orleans.[8]

A few days after Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson used a Louisiana National Guard detachment to recover personal effects and belongings from his home.[9] After the truck in which he and the detachment traveled became stuck, the Guard helicopter aided Jefferson's party while rescue operations were still ongoing.

2006 election

In the ensuing 2006 election cycle for Louisiana's 2nd congressional district, eight Democrats, three Republicans, and one Libertarian challengers stood for election against Jefferson.[10]

None of the candidates obtained more than 50% of the vote on the first ballot (November 7, 2006), forcing a runoff. The two candidates who survived the first ballot were both African-American Democrats: Jefferson got 30% of the vote, and State Representative Karen Carter, who enjoyed support from the Louisiana Democratic Party’s establishment, picked up nearly all endorsements from local politicians and the local press and gathered 22% of the vote.[11] Carter was Jefferson's first credible challenger since his initial run for Congress.

Political commentators predicted an easy victory for Carter on the second ballot (to be held on December 9, 2006).[12] In the last week of campaign, however, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, a law and order Democrat, urged voters not to vote for Carter. In response to Carter's criticism of Gretna police officers and Jefferson Parish deputies, who had blocked the Crescent City Connection and prevented evacuees from fleeing New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, Lee mailed out 25,000 fliers and made public statements attacking Carter. With this background the situation was particularly emotional and visceral as Orleans Parish is predominantly black and Jefferson Parish predominantly white (although not the part of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana's 2nd congressional district).[13]

Voter turnout dwindled from 24.15% to 16.25%. While residents of the city of New Orleans gave Jefferson a slight majority over Carter, (51% to 49%); the Jefferson Parish share of the district voted for Jefferson by a staggering 71% to 29%, clearly swinging the election in his favor.

Following Jefferson's reelection, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi announced that Jefferson would not regain his seat on the Ways and Means Committee as long as he is not "cleared of wrongdoing in an ongoing federal corruption probe".[14]

2008 campaign

In 2008, Jefferson sought re-election while under indictment for bribery. Six Democrats challenged him for the seat in the Democratic primary. The voting was delayed due to Hurricane Gustave.[15][16][17]

In the October 4, 2008 Democratic primary, opposition to Jefferson was split among seven contenders. Some of the challengers made strong showings in their base neighborhoods but failed to garner much support in other parts of the district. Jefferson ran second, third, or even fourth in many precincts, but his 25% total was enough to give him a plurality and to send him into the runoff primary, where he faced Helena Moreno, a former TV newscaster, on November 4. Aided by overwhelming support from African-American voters on the same date as the presidential candidacy of Barack H. Obama drew them to the polls in unprecedented numbers, Jefferson won the Democratic nomination in the congressional party primary, which barred the district's 41,000 Republicans and many of its 84,000 other voters not registered as Democrats.[18][19] Jefferson won the November 4 Democratic runoff.[20]

The general election round occurred on December 6, 2008. Jefferson faced Republican candidate Anh "Joseph" Cao, Green Party candidate Malik Rahim, and Libertarian Party candidate Gregory Kahn. An earlier candidate, independent Jerry Jacobs, withdrew.[21]

Jefferson was defeated in the general election on December 6, 2008 in a major upset by Republican nominee Cao,[22] who had endorsements from several prominent Democrats including Moreno and City Councilwomen Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson and Stacy Head. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin endorsed Jefferson. Cao won by three percentage points. Jefferson thus became only the third Democratic incumbent since the end of Reconstruction to lose to a Republican at the federal level in Louisiana.

Jefferson's loss evoked a sensation because of the overwhelmingly Democratic nature of the district; with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+28, it is the third-most Democratic district in the South. Democrats usually win local and state races in landslides , and Barack Obama carried the district with 72 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Jefferson became the third African-American incumbent Congressman to be unseated in a general election.[23]

Corruption case

Suspecting Jefferson of bribery, the FBI raided his Congressional offices in May 2006, but he was re-elected later that year. On June 4, 2007, a federal grand jury indicted Jefferson on sixteen felony charges related to corruption.[24] Jefferson was defeated by Republican Joseph Cao on December 6, 2008,[22] being the most senior Democrat to lose re-election that year.[25] In 2009, he was tried in Virginia on corruption charges.[26] On August 5, 2009, he was found guilty of eleven of the sixteen corruption counts.[27] Jefferson was sentenced to thirteen years on November 13, 2009, the longest sentence yet handed down to a congressman for bribery or any other crime.

On March 26, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Jefferson's conviction and sentence on ten of the eleven counts on which he was convicted.[28] The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the conviction on one count of the indictment, involving alleged wire fraud, holding that venue on that count was improper in the federal court in Virginia.[28]

On April 20, 2012, U.S. District Court judge T.S. Ellis revoked Jefferson's bail and ordered that he report to prison to begin serving his thirteen-year sentence by May 4, 2012.[29]

On May 4, 2012, Jefferson surrendered to the Bureau of Prisons facility in Beaumont, Texas to begin serving his 13-year sentence.[30] He is scheduled for release on August 30, 2023.[31]

Jefferson owes $5 million in legal fees and has filed for bankruptcy.[32] On May 1, 2015, Jefferson was permanently disbarred by the Supreme Court of Louisiana.[33]

Accusations against relatives

On May 22, 2009, Betty Jefferson, Mose Jefferson, Angela Coleman, and Mose's longtime companion, former New Orleans City Councilwoman Renée Gill Pratt, were indicted for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. On June 5, 2009, all the defendants pleaded not guilty. Brenda Jefferson Foster is serving as a witness in the government's case against them.[34] Mose Jefferson is also facing a separate trial for bribing Orleans Parish School Board president Ellenese Brooks-Simms.[35] Archie Jefferson is a convicted felon.[36] On July 28, 2009, United States federal judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle delayed the start of the racketeering trial to January 25, 2010.

On January 10, 2010, Mose Jefferson was convicted of bribery and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

On February 26, 2010, Betty Jefferson and Angela Coleman pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy and were expected to testify for the government in the fraud and corruption trial against Mose Jefferson and Pratt.

Electoral history

Mayor of New Orleans, 1982

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, February 6, 1982

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Ernest Morial Democratic 75,929 (47%) Runoff
Ron Faucheux Democratic 73,441 (45%) Runoff
Bill Jefferson Democratic 11,327 (7%) Defeated
Others n.a. 1,164 (1%) Defeated

Second Ballot, March 20, 1982

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Ernest Morial Democratic 100,703 (53%) Elected
Ron Faucheux Democratic 88,583 (47%) Defeated

Mayor of New Orleans, 1986

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, February 1, 1986

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 62,333 (39%) Runoff
Sidney Barthelemy Democratic 53,961 (33%) Runoff
Sam LeBlanc Democratic 40,963 (25%) Defeated
Others n.a. 4,372 (3%) Defeated

Second Ballot, March 1, 1986

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Sidney Barthelemy Democratic 93,050 (58%) Elected
Bill Jefferson Democratic 67,680 (42%) Defeated

State Senator, 1987

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 24, 1987

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic No Opponents Elected

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 1990

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 6, 1990

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 32,237 (24%) Runoff
Marc Morial Democratic 29,366 (22%) Runoff
Jon Johnson Democratic 25,468 (19%) Defeated
Woody Koppel Democratic 24,175 (18%) Defeated
Others n.a. 20,800 (17%) Defeated

Second Ballot, November 6, 1990

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 55,239 (52%) Elected
Marc Morial Democratic 50,232 (48%) Defeated

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 1992

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 3, 1992[37]

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 67,030 (73%) Elected
Wilma Knox Irvin Democratic 14,121 (15%) Defeated
Roger C. Johnson Independent 10,090 (11%) Defeated

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 1994

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 1, 1994

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 60,906 (78%) Elected
Bob Namer Republican 15,113 (19%) Defeated
Others n.a. 5,549 (3%) Defeated

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 1996

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, September 21, 1996

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic No Opponents Elected

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 1998

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, November 3, 1998

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 102,247 (78%) Elected
David Reed Democratic 10,803 (9%) Defeated
Don-Terry Veal Democratic 5,899 (5%) Defeated

Governor of Louisiana, 1999

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 23, 1999

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Mike Foster Republican 805,203 (62%) Elected
Bill Jefferson Democratic 382,445 (30%) Defeated
Others n.a. 107,557 (8%) Defeated

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 2000

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, November 7, 2000

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic No Opponents Elected

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 2002

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, November 5, 2002

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 90,310 (64%) Elected
Irma Muse Dixon Democratic 28,480 (20%) Defeated
Silky Sullivan Republican 15,440 (11%) Defeated
Others n.a. 7,926 (5%) Defeated

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 2004

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, November 2, 2004

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 173,510 (79%) Elected
Art Schwertz Republican 46,097 (21%) Defeated

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 2006

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, November 7, 2006

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 27,706 (30%) Runoff
Karen Carter Democratic 19,972 (22%) Runoff
Derrick Shepherd Democratic 16,621 (18%) Defeated
Joe Lavigne Republican 12,405 (13%) Defeated
Troy Carter Democratic 11,052 (12%) Defeated
Others n.a. 4,661 (5%) Defeated

Second Ballot, December 9, 2006

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bill Jefferson Democratic 35,153 (57%) Elected
Karen Carter Democratic 27,011 (43%) Defeated

U. S. Representative, 2nd Congressional District, 2008

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Joseph Cao Republican 33,122 (49.55%) Elected
Bill Jefferson Democratic 31,296 (46.82%) Defeated
Others n.a. 2,428 (3.63%) Defeated


  1. Murray, Shailagh & Lengel, Allan (February 16, 2006). "The Legal Woes Of Rep. Jefferson". Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved February 7, 2007.
  2. Ex-congressman gets 13 years in freezer cash case USA Today. 13 November 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  3. 1 2 Berry, Jason. Louisiana Purchase. Washington Monthly, April 2008.
  4. Navy League spreadsheet of military veterans in Congress.
  5. On August 21, 2009 Mose Jefferson was convicted on four felony counts (Mose Jefferson guilty of 4 of 7 bribery charges).
  6. Grady, Bill. "Mayor's runoff: one goal, two contenders." The New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 23, 1986.
  7. "Jefferson, William Jennings - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
  8. Laura Maggi "Jefferson family tree is shaken: Mighty political organization falls to legal assault portraying corruption" in Times-Picayune, August 9, 2009, Metro Edition, pp. A1, A18 (quotation appears on p. A18). Most of Maggi's article concerns the imputed connections between the trial of William J. Jefferson and other members of the family as well as Renée Gill Pratt.
  9. Tapper, Jake (September 13, 2005). "Amid Katrina Chaos, Congressman Used National Guard to Visit Home". ABC News. Retrieved February 7, 2006.
  10. Phillips, Lauren (August 9, 2006). "Bribery Claims Fail to Keep Jefferson from Filing in La. 2". CQPolitics.com.
  11. "Democratic Party in La. Backs Rival Of Jefferson". Associated Press. October 15, 2006.
  12. "Jefferson's Dilemma". Gambit Weekly. November 21, 2006.
  13. "Harry Lee: Say No to Karen Carter". WWL-TV New Orleans. December 4, 2006.
  14. "Jefferson still off crucial committee". Times-Picayune. December 13, 2006.
  15. "William Jefferson says longevity, clout matter". The Times-Picayune. August 20, 2008. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  16. "Race to unseat U.S. Rep. William Jefferson surprisingly low-key". The Times-Picayune. October 1, 2008. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  17. Mike Conti, "Five Dems sign up to challenge Jefferson on first qualifying day" on WWL Radio 870 AM New Orleans, July 9, 2008. Because of Hurricane Gustav the dates of the first and second party primaries and the general election were all moved to later than their customary statutory dates. The same was true of the election cycle in Louisiana's 4th congressional district.
  18. "Louisiana - Summary Vote Results". The Times-Picayune. October 5, 2008. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
  19. Krupa, Michelle (October 5, 2008). "Bill Jefferson, Helena Moreno to meet in runoff for Congress". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
  20. Krupa, Donze (November 4, 2008). "U.S. Rep. William Jefferson cruises past Moreno to December runoff". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
  21. Michelle Krupa [with Frank Donze], "2 Candidates Offer Alternative Views," Times-Picayune, December 2, 2008, pp. A6, A7.
  22. 1 2 "Louisiana congressman loses re-election bid". CNN. December 7, 2006. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
  23. Rudin, Ken (December 8, 2008). "Bill Jefferson Joins A Select Group". National Public Radio. Retrieved December 8, 2008. The other two African-Americans defeated in general elections were Republicans Oscar Stanton De Priest of Illinois and Gary Franks of Connecticut. As of 2008, two African-American incumbent U.S. Senators, Republican Edward Brooke of Massachusetts and Democrat Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, had also been defeated in general election races.
  24. Johnston, David & Zeleny, Jeff (June 5, 2007). "Congressman Sought Bribes, Indictment Says". The New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  25. See NNDB.com, Jefferson article in NNDB Beta, which also contains a list of his family members. See also New York Times articles on Jefferson.
  26. "Trial of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson begins today in Virginia" in Times-Picayune, June 9, 2009
  27. "William Jefferson verdict: Guilty on 11 of 16 counts" in Times-Picayune, August 5, 2009
  28. 1 2 Baynes, Terry (March 26, 2012). "Former U.S. Rep. Jefferson loses appeal on bribery convictions". Reuters. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
  29. Michael DeMocker; The Times-Picayune. "William Jefferson ordered to report to prison by May 4". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2013-04-19.
  30. "Ex-La. congressman William Jefferson reports to Texas prison - Associated Press". Politico.Com. June 13, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-19.
  31. William J. Jefferson, inmate #72121-083, Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Dep't of Justice, at .
  32. "Down-and-Out Ex-D.C. Figures Find Second Life on Talk Radio". Fox News. September 21, 2009.
  33. In Re: William J. Jefferson, 165 So.3d 905 (La. 2015) (per curiam).
  34. Michelle Krupa, "Ex-N.O. official pleads innocent" in Times-Picayune, June 6, 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, pp. A1, A11.
  35. Gordon Russell, "Mose Jefferson, William's brother, was the first to taste victory in politics ... behind the scenes" in Times-Picayune, May 31, 2009, Metro Edition, pp. A1, A12.
  36. Michelle Krupa, "Former N.O. official pleads innocent" in Times-Picayune, June 6, 2009.
  37. Calhoun, Milburn; McGovern, Bernie (2008). Louisiana Almanac 2008-2009. Pelican Publishing. p. 507. ISBN 9781455607709.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to William J. Jefferson.
Louisiana Senate
Preceded by
Frederick Eagan
Member of the Louisiana Senate
from the 5th district

Succeeded by
Diana Bajoie
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Lindy Boggs
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Joseph Cao
Party political offices
Preceded by
Cleo Fields
Democratic nominee for Governor of Louisiana
Succeeded by
Kathleen Blanco
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