WASHINGTON — Former Bush administration official David H. Safavian was sentenced to 18 months in prison Friday for lying and obstructing justice in connection with the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.
Safavian, the former chief of staff for the General Services Administration, was sentenced on obstruction and concealment charges for lying to investigators about his relationship with Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist.
"There was a time when people came to Washington because they thought government could be helpful to people," said U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman. "People came to Washington asking not what government could do for them and their friends but what they could do for the public."
Safavian wept in court as he asked for leniency, but Friedman said the ex-bureaucrat had become part of Washington's culture of corruption, where congressmen listen to campaign donors and lobbyists while farming out to staff members the job of writing laws.
Abramoff shook Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House when he pleaded guilty to corruption in January and began cooperating with an FBI investigation.
The case has become an election-year liability for Republicans. Last month, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) pleaded guilty to taking gifts and trips from Abramoff in return for official favors.
Friedman said he believed Safavian was a good person and could not understand why he got involved with Abramoff.
"Maybe it's hard to resist. Maybe it's hanging out with the big boys," Friedman said. "I'm not sure."
Safavian, who also worked in the White House budget office, gave Abramoff details about GSA projects and offered advice on dealing with the agency. He also accepted a cut-rate golf trip to Scotland aboard a private jet.
"Rather than putting the interest of the public first, he put the interest of Jack Abramoff first," prosecutor Peter R. Zeidenberg said.
Safavian apologized Friday for giving the appearance of impropriety but said it was not fraudulent. He said the lobbyist used and manipulated him and he never meant to hurt anyone.
Safavian argued for no jail time but prosecutors asked for a three-year sentence, saying Safavian lied on the stand. Friedman called Safavian's testimony that he didn't know the value of the Scotland trip and barely read an ethics opinion "incredible" and "hard to believe" but said it wasn't perjury.