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THE NATION

Bush Appointee Is Arrested in Obstruction Case

He is accused of lying about his assistance to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff while with the General Services Administration.

September 20, 2005|Walter F. Roche Jr. and Chuck Neubauer | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — A top federal procurement appointee of President Bush was arrested Monday on charges that he made false statements and obstructed a federal probe when he was questioned about a Scotland golfing junket arranged by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In a three-count criminal complaint made public Monday, David H. Safavian was accused of lying to an ethics officer in the General Services Administration regarding his dealings with the lobbyist, who flew him to Scotland in August 2002.

Safavian, former chief of staff of the GSA, also is accused of obstructing an inspector general's investigation into whether he improperly accepted favors from the lobbyist.

Safavian, 38, was with the GSA when he traveled to Scotland.

He was confirmed as the chief procurement officer for the Office of Management and Budget in November 2004.

He resigned Friday, according to Alex Conant, an OMB spokesman.

Safavian could not be reached for comment. Abramoff, through a spokesman, declined to answer questions.

Safavian, while working at the GSA, allegedly aided Abramoff's attempts to acquire GSA-controlled property for a school that the lobbyist had established in the Washington area.

Although the 14-page affidavit refers to Abramoff only as "Lobbyist A," Safavian previously named Abramoff as the person who arranged the 2002 trip.

A federal investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed that Abramoff was the unidentified lobbyist cited in the complaint.

According to the affidavit made public Monday, Safavian assisted the lobbyist in trying to acquire 40 acres of land controlled by the GSA for the school.

Abramoff also sought Safavian's assistance for a private client who was trying to lease a Washington office building from the GSA.

The inside help predated the golf junket and continued afterward, the document said.

Nonetheless, Safavian told an ethics official that the lobbyist "had no business before GSA and did all of his work on Capitol Hill."

The former GSA chief of staff "also omitted the fact that [Abramoff] was actively seeking assistance from the GSA and that Safavian was aiding in that effort," the affidavit said.

The affidavit, signed by an FBI agent, cites e-mails from Abramoff.

In one e-mail to Safavian, for example, Abramoff asked whether the GSA had control of property in Silver Springs, Md., that he sought for the private Jewish school he founded.

Safavian responded with his own e-mail on July 2, 2002, giving details of the property's status and suggesting that the two of them discuss the matter.

Abramoff later bragged to a colleague that Safavian was helping with the effort to secure the property.

Abramoff also sent his wife to a meeting at the GSA, according to another e-mail, because he didn't want to attract attention due to his own "high profile politically." Safavian attended the meeting, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that Safavian gave Abramoff specific advice on the drafting of a letter to the GSA regarding the property.

Abramoff has been indicted in Florida on charges of fraud relating to the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.

Separately, he is the subject of a wide-ranging federal probe of his lobbying efforts for Indian tribes operating or seeking to operate casinos.

In his e-mail to a GSA ethics officer, Safavian described the 2002 trip that he would be taking and added that it was being arranged by a former colleague. Safavian had worked with Abramoff at a Washington law firm a decade ago.

"He is paying the cost of the aircraft regardless of whether I go or not.

"In fact, none of the other guests will be paying a proportional share of the aircraft costs," Safavian wrote.

After the trip, Safavian showed the inspector general a copy of his $3,100 check to Abramoff, indicating that he had paid his own way.

Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, also went on the trip but a spokesman said Monday that the congressman had not been questioned about it. Ney has said he had been told that the trip was paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research. That group, however, has denied financing the junket to the famous St. Andrews golf course.

According to the complaint, "Indian tribal funds" paid for the trip.

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