"I can truly say that I'm sorry for those wrong decisions that I made," Jefferson said before her 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 the City of New Orleans $604,000 in restitution. Angela Coleman, Jefferson's daughter and co-defendant in the case, also has pleaded guilty, but was not sentenced Aug. 31 because she has serious health problems and is confined to a hospital.
Jefferson faced up to five years in prison for her involvement in a criminal conspiracy to siphon public money away from several state-supported charities but was granted probation rather than the 30 to 37 months of prison time federal 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 said at the sentencing hearing. Judge Ivan Lemelle cited Jefferson's "substantial assistance" with federal investigators' case against Gill Pratt, who was found guilty for the same crimes last month. Jefferson also testified against her brother, Mose Jefferson, whom she described as the ringleader in the scam. Mose, 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 probation rather than prison, Lemelle said, is Betty Jefferson's family situation. Her attorney Eddie Castaing said if she was sent to prison, there would be no one to take care of Coleman, who is scheduled to be released into her mother's care next week.
"She cannot walk," Castaing said of Coleman. "She really needs round-the-clock care, and there's only one person who can do that: her mother."
In requesting that Betty Jefferson receive house arrest rather than jail time, Coleman's daughter Tawanda Coleman told Lemelle that she works two jobs and her grandmother (Jefferson) had become the primary caretaker in their household.
"She's been basically taking care of my mother and my daughter on a full-time basis," Tawanda said. "She pretty much does everything."
Federal prosecutors neither asked for nor objected to the lighter sentence, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said at a press conference after the hearing.
"Indeed [Jefferson] stole a great deal of money," he said. "The sentencing guidelines did recommend 30 to 37 months (imprisonment). ... Justice isn't perfect. ... She did provide substantial assistance to the government's case. She's getting a benefit for that. Forgive the cliche, but 'It is what it is.'" — Maldonado