Abramoff Makes Plea Deal, Will Cooperate
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Lobbyist Jack Abramoff will plead guilty to federal charges in Washington and Miami, clearing the way for him to cooperate in a massive government investigation of influence peddling involving members of Congress, lawyers said Tuesday.
As part of the deal, prosecutors were filing conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges against the embattled lobbyist.
Abramoff was scheduled to appear at a hearing in U.S. District Court here later Tuesday, said department spokesman Bryan Sierra. Abramoff was expected to plead guilty to three charges as part of his agreement.
Abramoff was then to plead guilty to two criminal charges in Florida stemming from a 2000 purchase of a fleet of gambling boats, said Neal Sonnett, his attorney there.
Abramoff will plead guilty to two of the six charges in a federal indictment, Sonnett said.
U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck has scheduled a telephone status conference for later Tuesday. Four other charges in Florida will remain pending.
Any such plea agreement likely would secure the Republican lobbyist’s testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients. The Justice Department is believed to be focusing on as many as 20 lawmakers and aides.
The new charges were contained in a criminal information ? a filing made by a federal prosecutor with a defendant’s permission that bypasses action by a grand jury.
Prosecutors say Abramoff and former partner Michael Scanlon conspired to defraud Indian tribes in Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi and Texas of millions of dollars. Abramoff reaped roughly $20 million in hidden profits from the scheme, according to the information. Scanlon pleaded guilty in November.
Abramoff and Scanlon also lavished a golf trip to Scotland and other things of value on a member of Congress, identified elsewhere as Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee, the court document said. Ney has denied doing anything wrong.
Pressure had been intensifying on Abramoff to strike a deal with prosecutors since another former partner, Adam Kidan, pleaded guilty earlier this month to fraud and conspiracy in connection with the 2000 SunCruz boat deal in Florida.
Abramoff’s cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to two-dozen lawmakers of both parties and their staff members.
The continuing saga of Abramoff’s legal problems has caused anxiety at high levels in Washington, in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan could not say Tuesday whether Abramoff ever met
President Bush. But when asked at the White House about this, the spokesman said that “what he is reportedly acknowledged doing is unacceptable and outrageous.”
“If laws were broken, he must be held to account for what he did,” McClellan said.
For months, prosecutors in Washington have focused on whether Abramoff defrauded his Indian tribal clients of millions of dollars and used improper influence on members of Congress.
In a five-year span ending in early 2004, tribes represented by the lobbyist contributed millions of dollars in casino income to congressional campaigns, often routing the money through political action committees for conservative lawmakers who opposed gambling.
Abramoff also provided trips, sports skybox fundraisers, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment and jobs for lawmakers’ relatives and aides.
In Florida, Abramoff and Kidan were indicted in August on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and mail fraud in connection with their purchase of the SunCruz fleet for $147.5 million from Miami businessman Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis.
Prosecutors said the pair faked a $23 million wire transfer to make it appear that they were making a significant contribution of their own money into the deal. Based on that transfer, lenders Foothill Capital Corp. and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd. agreed to provide $60 million in financing for the purchase.
Kidan pleaded guilty Dec. 15 to one count of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines at sentencing scheduled for March 1.
Scanlon agreed to cooperate in the SunCruz case as part of a plea agreement in a separate case with federal prosecutors in Washington. In that agreement, Scanlon admitted helping Kidan and Abramoff buy SunCruz, partly by persuading Ney to insert comments in the Congressional Record designed to pressure Boulis to sell.