Abramoff Pleads Guilty to 3 Counts
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful lobbyist at the center of a wide-ranging public corruption investigation, pleaded guilty yesterday to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in a deal that requires him to provide evidence about members of Congress.
The plea deal could have enormous legal and political consequences for the lawmakers on whom Abramoff lavished luxury trips, skybox fundraisers, campaign contributions, jobs for their spouses, and meals at Signatures, the lobbyist's upscale restaurant.
In court papers, prosecutors refer to only one congressman: Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio). But Abramoff, who built a political alliance with House Republicans, including former majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas, has agreed to provide information and testimony about half a dozen House and Senate members, officials familiar with the inquiry said. He also is to provide evidence about congressional staffers, Interior Department workers and other executive branch officials, and other lobbyists.
"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive," Alice S. Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, said at a news conference with other high-ranking officials of the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI. "We're going to follow this wherever it goes."
Fisher declined to identify the officials under scrutiny. "We name people in indictments," she said, adding: "We are moving very quickly."
Among the allegations in the court documents is that Abramoff arranged for payments totaling $50,000 for the wife of an unnamed congressional staffer in return for the staffer's help in killing an Internet gambling measure. The Washington Post has previously reported that Tony Rudy, a former top aide to DeLay, worked with Abramoff to kill such a bill in 2000 before going to work for Abramoff.
Abramoff's appearance in U.S. District Court came nearly two years after his lobbying practices gained public notice because of the enormous payments -- eventually tallied at $82 million -- that he and a public relations partner received from casino-rich Indian tribes. Yesterday, he admitted defrauding four of those tribal clients out of millions of dollars. He also pleaded guilty to evading taxes, to conspiring to bribe lawmakers, and to conspiring to induce former Capitol Hill staffers to violate the one-year ban on lobbying their former bosses.
Under terms of his plea agreement, Abramoff can expect to receive a jail sentence of 9 1/2 to 11 years, and he is required to make restitution of $26.7 million to the IRS and to the Indian tribes he defrauded. Today he is to plead guilty to fraud and conspiracy counts in a related case in Florida involving his purchase of a casino cruise line.
Standing before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington yesterday, Abramoff looked sheepish and sad. "Your Honor, words will not be able to ever express how sorry I am for this, and I have profound regret and sorrow for the multitude of mistakes and harm I have caused," he said softly. "All of my remaining days, I will feel tremendous sadness and regret for my conduct and for what I have done. I only hope that I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to suffer."
Abramoff has been in extensive discussions with government lawyers for months leading up to yesterday's plea.
Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee, is among the first of those expected to feel the fallout. In the court documents -- which identify him only as "Representative #1" -- Ney is accused of meeting with one of Abramoff's clients in Russia in 2003 to "influence the process for obtaining a [U.S.] visa" for one of the client's relatives and of agreeing to aid a California tribe represented by Abramoff on tax and post office issues.
Ney also placed comments in the Congressional Record backing Abramoff's efforts to gain control of the Florida gambling company, SunCruz Casinos, and offered legislative language sought by Abramoff that would have reopened a Texas tribe's shuttered casino.