A Kentucky businessman was sentenced on Friday to seven years and three months in prison after pleading guilty to paying bribes to Rep. William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat who is the target of a federal corruption probe.

Louisville technology executive Vernon Jackson pleaded guilty on May 3 to two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and the payment of bribes to a public official.

According to court documents, Jackson, head of iGate Inc., paid more than $400,000 to a corporate entity set up by Jefferson in exchange for the lawmaker’s assistance in securing a deal with a Nigerian company to deploy iGate’s high-speed Internet technology in Africa.

In addition to sentencing Jackson to 87 months in prison, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia, ordered Jackson to serve two years’ probation when his sentence is completed.

As part of his plea, Jackson has agreed to cooperate with law enforcement officials in a corruption probe of Jefferson and his business deals in Africa and elsewhere.

Jefferson, who has not been charged with any crimes, has denied any wrongdoing and has refused to resign his congressional seat.

"Congressman Jefferson knows well the pressure that the Department of Justice can apply once it targets someone for criminal prosecution," Jefferson’s lawyer, Robert Trout, said in a statement.

"As Jackson’s plea bargain makes clear, the government has offered powerful inducements to cause Jackson to plead guilty, He has every reason to expect that his sentence will be substantially reduced depending on his testimony against the congressman," Trout said.

In July, a federal judge upheld the FBI’s unprecedented search of Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office, rejecting arguments it violated various constitutional protections.

Democratic and Republican leaders of the House of Representatives expressed outrage at the search, in which the FBI seized a computer hard drive and two boxes of papers from Jefferson’s office.

The FBI has claimed in court documents it videotaped Jefferson accepting $100,000 cash intended as a bribe for a Nigerian official. The FBI said $90,000 of that money was found hidden in a freezer in Jefferson’s house.

© 2006 Reuters

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