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Ex-Bush Official Is Indicted in Golf Junket Investigation

A grand jury accuses the former procurement officer, who went to Scotland with a GOP lobbyist, of lying and obstructing justice.

October 06, 2005|Faye Fiore | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A former top federal procurement official in the Bush administration was indicted Wednesday on five counts of lying and obstructing justice in connection with an investigation into a lavish golf junket to Scotland arranged by Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

David H. Safavian, 38, was accused in the federal grand jury indictment of making false statements to investigators regarding the trip, taken while he served as chief of staff at the General Services Administration, making purchasing policies for the U.S. government. He held that position from May 2002 until January 2004.

Later that year he was confirmed as chief procurement officer for the Office of Management and Budget. He resigned from that position Sept. 16, three days before he was arrested.

The indictment alleges that in the summer of 2002, Safavian discussed with a prominent lobbyist the possibility of leasing two federal properties -- the historic Old Post Office building in Washington and the Naval Surface Warfare Center-White Oak in suburban Maryland.

The lobbyist has since been identified as Abramoff, a prominent GOP fundraiser with close ties to top Republican lawmakers in Congress, who is at the center of an ongoing corruption investigation.

According to Wednesday's indictment, the two men were exchanging e-mails about the terms for leasing the post office for use by clients and the naval center for use as a school the lobbyist had started.

Safavian informed the lobbyist that the deal could be "problematic." Shortly afterward, the indictment continues, the lobbyist offered to take Safavian on a golf junket to Scotland.

Safavian checked with an ethics officer about the trip, but failed to disclose that the lobbyist had business pending before the agency, according to the indictment.

Based on Safavian's assertion, the indictment says, the officer gave his approval, prompting Safavian to send the lobbyist an e-mail: "It looks like Scotland is a go."

On Aug. 3, 2002, Safavian, former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and others "boarded a chartered jet for Scotland where they played golf on multiple well-known and historic golf courses, including the Old Course at St. Andrews."

The group, led by Abramoff, continued on to London. The total cost of the trip for nine people exceeded $130,000, the indictment said.

Safavian later falsely told investigators that he had repaid the lobbyist for his part of the junket, the government alleges. It is a violation of federal ethics standards for an employee to accept gifts from anyone with business pending before his agency.

Abramoff was indicted in August by federal prosecutors in Florida on unrelated charges of wire fraud and conspiracy, and is at the center of a probe by a federal task force. Safavian is the first person beyond Abramoff to be charged in that investigation.

"This is not a case of guilty as charged. Rather it is an attempt to prove guilt by association," Barbara Van Gelder, Safavian's Washington lawyer, said in a written statement. "If this case did not involve Mr. Abramoff, the government would never have indicted Mr. Safavian on these charges."

Noting that many of the statements that support the government's case were made by Abramoff himself, Van Gelder asked: "How can he be a scoundrel to the Government in so many other cases and its star witness in this one?"

Safavian will plead not guilty at an arraignment, probably next week, his lawyer said.

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