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Businessman gets 7 years in attempt to bribe congressman

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—A Kentucky businessman who says he bribed a Louisiana congressman to promote his small technology company was sentenced Friday to more than seven years in prison.

Federal prosecutors said Vernon Jackson, 54, of Louisville, founder of iGate, deserved credit for pleading guilty in May to two bribery counts, and they said he is cooperating with the Justice Department in its ongoing political corruption investigation of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. Jackson could have received up to nine years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

Although Jefferson has not been charged with a crime, he is a friend and partner of Jackson who promoted iGate in the United States and overseas. FBI agents have searched Jefferson's homes and offices in Washington and New Orleans, finding $90,000 in alleged bribe money stashed in his freezer.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III noted that Jackson is a self-made entrepreneur with strong ties to his community and church. But Ellis said the punishment must reflect the damage that bribery inflicts on the credibility of government.

"The rule of law ... only makes sense if our public officials are not corrupt," Ellis said, ordering Jackson to serve 87 months in prison. Jackson, a tall and stocky man with a shaved head and a trim mustache, stood without reaction.

"Public corruption is the worst kind of a virulent and malignant cancer," the judge said.

Ellis ruled that Jackson won't have to report to prison until at least January, as prosecutors said they want to continue to consult him in their investigation.

According to court records, Jefferson took more than $400,000 in bribes from Jackson—and slowly tried to seize control of his company—in exchange for helping iGate win U.S. and foreign government contracts, using his position in Congress. Founded in 1998, iGate sells what it calls innovative technology for broadband access.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle said after the sentencing that he could not discuss the status of the Justice Departments investigation.

A spokeswoman for Jefferson declined to comment. First elected to Congress in 1991, Jefferson faces a crowd of re-election challengers this fall in Louisiana's Democratic primary.

On Friday, Jackson declined to comment outside the courtroom or to address the judge. His public defender said Jackson is ashamed and remorseful for what he did.

"Mr. Jackson is a good man who has risen from modest beginnings," said his lawyer, Michael Nachmanoff. "His desire to see his business succeed is what led him to where he is today. ... If he could go back in time, he would. But he cannot."

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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