By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, facing trial on fraud charges Jan. 9 in Florida, is negotiating a possible deal with the Justice Department, in which he would agree to plead guilty and cooperate in the wide-ranging political corruption investigation focused on his dealings with members of Congress and executive branch officials, people familiar with the talks said last night.
Abramoff would provide testimony about numerous members of Congress and their staffs if he and the Justice Department reach an agreement, the sources said. Negotiations have been ongoing for several months, people knowledgeable about the discussions said, but pressure is mounting because of the pending trial.
Abramoff's co-defendant in that case, Adam Kidan, agreed last week to plead guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud, and to testify against his former business partner. Abramoff would face significant jail time in any plea deal, the sources said.
The former lobbyist is under financial pressure as he faces trial and a multifaceted investigation in Washington. Despite his multimillion-dollar earnings, Abramoff's lawyers maintain that their client has few resources left. Abbe Lowell, Abramoff's lead attorney in Washington, refused to comment on any plea negotiations.
The pressure on Abramoff to reach a deal increased with Kidan's plea and the November guilty plea by another Abramoff business partner -- public relations executive Michael Scanlon.
Abramoff and Kidan were charged with fraud and conspiracy in connection with their purchase of SunCruz Casinos, a fleet of Florida gambling boats, in the fall of 2000.
Scanlon, a onetime congressional staffer who became a top partner to Abramoff, pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a congressman and other public officials. Scanlon agreed to pay back more than $19 million of the more than $80 million he and Abramoff charged Indian tribal clients.
In their wide-ranging inquiry, Justice Department investigators are looking at a half-dozen lawmakers, as well as Capitol Hill aides, former Abramoff associates and executive branch officials.
Abramoff's discussions with prosecutors were first reported by the Miami Herald last week. The discussions were also reported by the New York Times on its Web site last night.
Prosecutors have told one lawmaker, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), that they are preparing a possible bribery indictment against him over official acts that benefited clients of Abramoff. Ney inserted comments in the Congressional Record at Scanlon's request praising Kidan and castigating the reputation of SunCruz's then-owner, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, during contentious purchase negotiations.
In October, prosecutors got agreements from Abramoff, Kidan, Ney and former Ney aide Neil Volz to suspend the five-year statute of limitations while the investigation continues. Ney has said he was misled by Abramoff and Scanlon.
In Scanlon's plea agreement, he agreed to testify against Ney. Kidan's attorney has said he is prepared to testify against Ney as well.