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Ex-GOP lobbyist Abramoff sentenced to 4 years in prison

He tearfully admits to the judge that he 'happily and arrogantly' engaged in a corrupt lifestyle.

September 05, 2008|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist, was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for his leading role in a wide-ranging corruption scandal that rocked Congress and the Bush administration.

As family members and angry former clients looked on, U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle pronounced sentence after a tearful Abramoff, admitting that he had "happily and arrogantly engaged" in a corrupt lifestyle, made a plea for leniency.

"I come before you today as a broken man," he said. "My name is the butt of jokes, the source of laughs, the title of scandals, the synonym for perfidy, and I am not sure that will ever change. . . . I am so sorry I put everyone through all this."

The sentence means that Abramoff, who has been imprisoned since November 2006 on a separate Florida fraud conviction, will spend what Huvelle described as "just shy of six years in prison." The two sentences will be served at the same time, the judge said.

In the case heard Thursday, federal sentencing guidelines recommend a minimum sentence of 10 years and one month. Huvelle said the sharp reduction was appropriate because of Abramoff's cooperation in the cases against 10 other people, including former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and the former No. 2 official at the Interior Department, J. Steven Griles.

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers had sought an even lesser sentence, but Huvelle rejected those requests, citing Abramoff's central role in the scandal.

"Your fraud activities are really quite multifaceted," she told Abramoff. "These activities corrupted the political process and deprived the public of the honest services of their public officials."

The courtroom drama was the final chapter in a stunning fall from grace for one of Washington's most powerful figures, whose web of influence -- and crimes -- came to snare figures in the Bush administration, members of Congress and their top aides.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January 2006 to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials by showering them with gifts and inducing them to take official action on behalf of his lobbying group. The largesse included the use of luxury suites at Washington-area sports venues, free meals at an upscale restaurant Abramoff owned and an all-expenses-paid golf outing to Scotland.

Clad in khaki pants and a faded brown T-shirt, Abramoff remained stoic through much of Thursday's hearing, seated facing Huvelle with his hands folded in his lap. He wiped away a tear while a member of an Indian tribe he once represented asked the judge to impose a lesser sentence because of the millions of dollars in federal aid Abramoff had brought the tribe.

Others, however, urged Huvelle to throw the book at the defendant.

"His actions have caused a dark stain not only on the tribes that hired him but on Indian country as a whole," said Brian Sprague, a former member of the governing council of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan, a former Abramoff client.

"Thank you, Jack," Sprague said facetiously, turning from the lectern to address Abramoff directly.

Although acknowledging the seriousness of his client's crimes, Abramoff's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, told Huvelle that some offenses attributed to Abramoff had been exaggerated, and that some clients were overlooking the benefits of the access Abramoff brought them.

"This is a case where the myth of Jack Abramoff can overtake the actual man," Lowell said. "Jack is here to make an accounting for his actions -- those that were wrong and those that were not."

Abramoff has already served 21 months of a 70-month sentence for mail and wire fraud in a separate case involving the purchase of a casino-boat business in Florida. The Justice Department has asked the judge in that case to reduce that sentence as well because of help Abramoff provided prosecutors.

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rick.schmitt@latimes.com

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