Former New Orleans assessor and sister of former Congressman Bill Jefferson, Betty Jefferson, who pleaded guilty last year to a federal corruption charges, was sentenced today to five years probation, including 15 months home detention.
"I can truly say that I'm sorry for those wrong decisions that I made," Jefferson said on her own behalf before the sentence was handed down. "I took responsibility for what I did ... I wouldn't be able to do it again. I'm not even in the position to do it again."
Under the sentence, Jefferson will be required to pay $604,000 in restitution to the city of New Orleans.
Angela Coleman, Jefferson's daughter and co-defendant in the case, has also pleaded guilty but was not sentenced as a result of serious health problems that have left her confined to a hospital.
Jefferson, who faced up to five years in prison for her involvement in a criminal conspiracy to siphon public money away from several city-supported charities, was granted probation rather than the 30-37 months prison time sentencing guidelines called for in her case.
"The facts of this case are distressing, disturbing and, I would, urge, damaging to the city," Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Friel, a prosecutor in the case, said in court today.
Judge Ivan Lemelle cited her "substantial assistance" with federal investigators' case against former City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt, found guilty for the same crimes last month, who Jefferson testified against, as well as in its case against her brother Mose Jefferson, who Betty Jefferson described as the ringleader in the scam. Mose Jefferson, who was convicted of bribery charges in 2009, died in a prison hospital before he could face trial in the charity case.
"It's a type of substantial assistance that in my view is rare," Lemelle said. "This is the second time I've had a defendant cooperate with the government in the prosecution of a family member."
A secondary reason for imposing a probationary, rather than prison, sentence, Lemelle said, was Jefferson's family situation.
Jefferson's attorney Eddie Castaing said that were she sent to prison, her daughter, who is currently hospitalized as a result of health problems Lemelle described as "grave," would have no one to take care of her. Coleman is scheduled to be released into her mother's care next week.
"She cannot walk," Castaing said. "She really needs round-the-clock care, and there's only one person who can do that: her mother."
Angela Coleman's daughter Tawanda Coleman, requesting that Jefferson receive house arrest rather than jail time, told Lemelle that because she works two jobs, her grandmother had of necessity become the primary caretaker in their household.
"She's been basically taking care of my mother and my daughter on a full-time basis," Coleman said. "She pretty much does everything.
Federal prosecutors neither asked for nor objected to the lighter sentence for the crimes, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said in a press conference after the hearing.
"Indeed she stole a great deal of money. The sentencing guidelines did recommend 30 to 37 months (imprisonment) ... Justice isn't perfect ... She did provide substantial assistance to the government's case," Letten said. "She's getting a benefit for that. Forgive the cliche, but it is what it is."