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John Jenrette, convicted in Abscam scandal, dies

by The Associated Press | March 21, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
FILE - Rep. John Jenrette, D-S.C., right, accompanied by his lawyer Kenneth Robinson, walk outside the house Ethics Committee room in Washington on Dec. 10, 1980. Jenrette, who had been in declining health, died Friday, March 17, 2023 according to his obituary from Goldfinch Funeral Home in Conway, S.C. He was 86. (AP Photo/ John Duricka, file)

CONWAY, S.C. -- Former U.S. Rep. John Jenrette, a colorful politician who was convicted in the Abscam bribery scandal in the late 1970s and whose wife talked to Playboy about an in-session dalliance on the U.S. Capitol steps, has died. He was 86.

Jenrette, who had been in declining health, died Friday, according to his obituary from Goldfinch Funeral Home in Conway, S.C.

The Democrat served three terms in the House, and while his crime and escapades received the most attention, he also was known for securing federal help for his mostly rural district, including aid to tobacco and other farmers and a new bridge in Georgetown tall enough to allow ships to pass easily.

Jenrette was elected to the House in 1974, knocking off the incumbent Republican after the Watergate scandal.

Democratic leaders respected Jenrette and his ability to accomplish things. There was talk of leadership positions, but his splashy, outspoken nature would be his downfall.

An FBI informant approached Jenrette and other congressional members in the late '70s, offering bribes if they would help pass immigration bills on behalf of foreigners who wanted to run casinos in the U.S.

"I've got larceny in my blood," Jenrette said on the grainy video as the FBI, for the first time in the agency's history, taped politicians taking bribes.

Jenrette said he was drunk when he took the $50,000 bribe. He was convicted and served 13 months of a two-year prison sentence. He resigned from the House in 1980 just before his term ended. Even with all the news about the bribery scandal, Jenrette nearly won reelection.

After his conviction, Jenrette's second wife, Rita, posed nude in Playboy magazine and said she had sex with her husband behind a column on the Capitol steps during a break in a late-night House session. The escapade was the inspiration for the group The Capitol Steps, which did political satire songs and skits for almost 40 years.

The book "Capitol Steps and Missteps: The Wild, Improbable Ride of Congressman John Jenrette" by John Clark and Cookie Miller VanSice detailed his life.

Both were former aides. They chronicled Jenrette's productive life after prison, when he helped tobacco companies sell cigarettes in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism, bred horses in Bulgaria and bought and sold land in Myrtle Beach, eventually settling into a beachfront home with his third wife, Rosemary.

"I made some mistakes, but I lived a great life," Jenrette told The Post and Courier newspaper in 2017.

Print Headline: John Jenrette, convicted in Abscam scandal, dies


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