With all the attention on Alaska politics, we all should remember that Abramoff was also very active in Alaska. -GFS
Thursday 04 September 2008
by: Del Quentin Wilber and Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post
Jack Abramoff, the onetime powerhouse Republican lobbyist whose influence peddling led to one of the biggest public corruption investigations in recent history, was sentenced by a federal judge today to four years in prison.
The sentence handed out by U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle comes nearly three years after Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy for plying public officials with gifts in exchange for official actions.
It means that Abramoff likely will remain in prison until 2012, regardless of whether his sentence in a separate Florida fraud and conspiracy case is reduced. Huvelle said she wrestled with the appropriate sentence for Abramoff because he has cooperated extensively with authorities but committed “serious offenses.”
“This is a very challenging case,” Huvelle said, adding “there was a consistent course of corrupt conduct and, in a sense, it got much worse over time.”
Abramoff apologized for his crimes, saying that he was no longer the person who “happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political corruption and business corruption.”
“I am sorry, so sorry, that I have put everyone through this,” he added.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers sought leniency for Abramoff citing his extensive cooperation with the wide-ranging public corruption probe. He has been interviewed by prosecutors and investigators for more than 3,000 hours and has reviewed nearly half a million documents, lawyers said in court documents filed last week.
That “extraordinary cooperation” prompted prosecutors to ask the judge to sentence Abramoff to 5 years and 4 months behind bars, with credit for time he also has served in the Florida case. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Huvelle could have given Abramoff a sentence of nine to 11 years.
Abramoff’s attorneys sought a more lenient sentence that would have allowed their client to be released as early as 2010.
Prosecutors wrote in court papers that Abramoff has described in detail how he and other lobbyists at his firm supplied meals, gifts, trips and “a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a stream of official action.”
The Department of Justice so far has secured 12 convictions or guilty pleas from public officials and lobbyists related to the Abramoff investigation. Among those who have pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges are former congressman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who was released from federal prison last month; Tony Rudy, a deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas); and J. Steven Griles, a former deputy secretary at the Department of Interior.
In April, a former high-ranking official at the Justice Department, Robert E. Coughlin II, pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in meals and sports tickets from Abramoff and his lobbyists in exchange for helping their clients.
Prosecutors said in court documents that Abramoff is cooperating in several ongoing investigations they declined to specify. DeLay and retiring Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) are two people who remain under scrutiny.
At the height of his influence, Abramoff moved easily in the corridors of Washington power, from Capitol Hill to the White House, where he was photographed with President Bush.
The lobbyist, who wore a trademark black fedora, grew up so poor that his father developed rickets from malnutrition, before climbing his way up the social ladder. He eventually joined the Republican party and campaigned hard for Ronald Reagan in 1980. He became the national chairman of the College Republicans.
After a brief stint in the movie business, Abramoff returned to Washington as a lobbyist and joined the firm of Greenberg Traurig, where he established a group of lobbyists who pushed aggressively for their clients, many of whom were Indian tribes seeking help on matters that ranged from gambling legislation to a federal grant to build a jail.
Abramoff and his colleagues dished out campaign donations, luxury boxes and tickets to sporting events and concerts, and paid for lavish golf trips to buy influence with public officials. He and his lobbyists wined and dined the officials, often at his D.C. restaurant, Signatures, which “hemorrhaged money, in part because Abramoff regularly provided free or discounted meals and drinks to public officials,” prosecutors wrote in court filings last week.
He also hired the spouses of public officials and the companies they operated, including a consulting firm owned by Rudy’s wife.
In exchange, public officials helped win Abramoff’s clients millions of dollars in federal grants and funding, tipped them off to internal government deliberations and inserted helpful language into bills.
But Abramoff did not always have his clients’ best interests at heart. He has admitted that he and a former associate, Michael Scanlon, a one-time press aide to DeLay, concocted a kick-back scheme that defrauded the Indian tribes of millions of dollars. The effort involved Abramoff suggesting that the tribes hire Scanlon’s public relations firm at hugely inflated prices. The men then split the profits.
Abramoff’s empire came crashing down in January 2006, when he pleaded guilty in Washington to charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. The next day, he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Miami to fraud and conspiracy charges tied to his purchase of a fleet of casino boats.
In that case, he was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison and began serving his time in November of that year. Last week, prosecutors asked the judge in that case to reduce his sentence to three years and nine months because of his cooperation with the investigation.
Abramoff’s lawyers also have argued that he has accepted responsibility for his actions and that the public knows only one side of Abramoff, a complex figure who is devoted to his family, Jewish faith and charitable work.
“As large a figure of wrongdoing that has been painted in the media, Mr. Abramoff is a lesser known but equally large figure in matters of family, faith, generosity and remorse,” his lawyers, Abbe D. Lowell and Pamela J. Marple, wrote in court papers.
The lawyers produced more than 350 letters to support Abramoff, a deluge that Huvelle said she had never experienced before. One of those letters came from Rabbi David Lapin, who said that Abramoff had undergone “deep soul searching, remorse and personal transformation” in recent months.