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The Nation

Republican charged in Abramoff probe

A GOP environmental group founder allegedly lied and evaded taxes.

June 07, 2007|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The founder of a Republican environmental organization was charged Wednesday with tax evasion and obstruction of justice as part of the continuing federal criminal investigation into lobbying practices in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal.

Italia Federici, president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, allegedly failed to pay more than $77,000 in federal income taxes from 2001 to 2003. She was also cited for making "false and fictitious" statements before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2005, which was investigating Abramoff's representation of Native American tribes.

The Justice Department declined to discuss the matter further; a hearing on the case has been set for Friday.

Federici's lawyers said Wednesday that she would plead guilty to both charges. Federici "regrets her failure ... to pay her individual income taxes" and "regrets her past trust and confidence in Jack Abramoff," said a statement by Jonathan N. Rosen and Noam B. Fischman.

Federal investigators have alleged that Federici acted as Abramoff's liaison to the Interior Department in helping tribes get meetings with top officials in return for high fees charged by the lobbyist. He is now serving a nearly six-year prison term.

According to the charges filed Wednesday, Federici founded the environmental council in 1997 in Colorado with the help of Gale A. Norton, who later became secretary of the Interior under President Bush.

The charges said that much of the seed money for the group came from an inheritance that Federici received and that over the years she often paid herself back by directly withdrawing funds from the group's bank account "through ATM and teller transactions."

From 2001 through 2003, the charges state, she received a taxable income of $233,955, and failed to pay the $77,243 in taxes she owed.

The second charge dealt with her interview by Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigators in October 2005 and her testimony before the panel a month later. The committee was investigating the relationships among Federici, Abramoff and J. Steven Griles, then the Interior Department's deputy secretary.

Griles was convicted in March of lying in the Abramoff investigation. He acknowledged in a plea agreement that he had falsely told the committee Abramoff had no special access to his office. He also admitted failing to fully disclose his romantic involvement with Federici and said that it was she who introduced him to Abramoff. Federici was identified only as "Person A" in court documents in that case. Griles faces five years in prison.

In her testimony to the Senate panel, Federici insisted she believed Abramoff's tribal clients had donated $500,000 over three years to her organization because they were generous -- not because they wanted to use her connections to help them beat competing tribes trying to win casino licenses.

When the committee's then-chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said he saw a "clear connection" between the donations and Abramoff, she denied that there was any quid pro quo.

She also insisted that Griles was not pushed to deny licenses to competing tribes. "I never asked Steve to put the kibosh on anything," she testified.

Federici also testified in support of Abramoff. "I had no reason

Some Senate committee members suggested they did not believe her.

"I come from a really small town," Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) told her. "But I think I can spot a pretty big lie from time to time."

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richard.serrano@latimes.com

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