MIAMI — A former business associate of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Thursday to fraud and conspiracy charges related to a deal to buy a fleet of Florida-based gambling boats, the latest twist in a federal inquiry that has reached to Congress.
Adam R. Kidan, who had entered a plea of not guilty after he was indicted in August, said he and his onetime partner defrauded lenders of $60 million five years ago by faking a $23-million wire transfer to get financing to buy the SunCruz Casinos fleet. Abramoff pleaded not guilty in August to a six-count federal fraud and conspiracy indictment stemming from his role in the purchase.
"Did you intentionally do what the government says you did in this case?" U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck asked Kidan, 41, on Thursday.
"Yes, your honor," Kidan said. When asked what revised plea he wanted to enter, the New Yorker said, "guilty, your honor."
Kidan could receive as much as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the two counts. Under the plea agreement, other federal charges against Kidan were to be dropped. He is to be sentenced in March.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Lawrence D. LaVecchio told Huck that under the deal, Kidan had pledged to cooperate with authorities in their investigations.
Outside the federal courthouse, Kidan's lawyer said his client was ready to take the witness stand at Abramoff's trial in the SunCruz case, scheduled to begin early next year. "If the government intends to call him," said Joseph Conway, "he's prepared to testify."
Conway said Kidan also would cooperate with Florida prosecutors in their investigation into the murder of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, the former owner of SunCruz Casinos who sold the line to Kidan and Abramoff in a $147.5-million deal. Five months after the sale, on Feb. 6, 2001, Boulis was shot dead in his BMW sedan in a mob-style hit in Fort Lauderdale.
Standing next to his attorney outside the courthouse, Kidan said nothing. Kidan's left arm was in a sling -- the result, his attorney said, of a fall on the ice a week ago that caused a shoulder fracture.
Contacted after the hearing, Neil Sonnett, Abramoff's attorney, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on Kidan's changed plea and deal with federal prosecutors. Kidan's cooperation with authorities could increase the pressure on Abramoff to do the same, but his lawyer gave no sign of that.
"We're still looking at a Jan. 9 trial date," Sonnett said.
The guilty plea from Kidan was the second in a month involving a former business associate of Abramoff, the once powerful Washington dealmaker who stands in the middle of a burgeoning federal ethics probe that has engulfed Congress.
Last month, Michael P.S. Scanlon, another former Abramoff partner, and a onetime aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to conspiring to bribe public officials, and to defrauding Indian tribes with casino gambling interests of millions of dollars in fees.
Scanlon agreed to cooperate with federal investigators who are scrutinizing Abramoff.
The documents in the Scanlon plea agreement describe a recipient of the largesse as a member of Congress whose actions mirror those taken by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
In 2000, Ney placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff and Kidan's 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos. After the sale, Ney praised Kidan in the Congressional Record for his "renowned reputation for honesty and integrity."
A spokesman for Ney has said the congressman believes he was duped and intends to cooperate with prosecutors.
Abramoff also has been under investigation in Washington for his lobbying activities on behalf of Indian tribes, and his role in sponsoring foreign trips for DeLay.
DeLay once called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends," but has denied he knew that any expenses on trips he took overseas were paid by the lobbyist.
In September, prosecutors in Broward County, Fla., charged three men in the Boulis slaying. Court records show that two of them were paid $250,000 by Kidan. Kidan has said they were employed for catering and security services. He has not been charged in the case.
Four months after Boulis' death, SunCruz, a fleet of 11 gambling boats that sailed from nine Florida ports and Myrtle Beach, S.C., sank into bankruptcy under its new owners.
Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt in Washington contributed to this report.