Correction to This Article
A March 31 In the Loop item misidentified the writer of a letter of support for Jack Abramoff. The letter was sent by Rabbi David Lapin, not Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who is his brother.

For Jack's a Jolly Good Fellow!

By Al Kamen
Friday, March 31, 2006

The extraordinary outpouring of letters on behalf of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff must have played a part in persuading U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck to give Abramoff the minimum possible sentence Wednesday for fraud and conspiracy in buying casino boats in Florida.

The sheer volume -- 262 letters were ginned up by Abramoff's lawyers -- was impressive. So was the range -- from family members to old friends to religious folks to a member of Congress (Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.).

All asked for leniency for a great guy who lost his way. They focused on Abramoff's good deeds -- local physician Gene Colice 's letter talked about neighbor Abramoff "trying to find a lost hamster on a Friday night" -- to his contributions to Jewish charities and religious institutions.

Some of the letters at first glance seem risky, raising the possibility of backfire. For example, there were two from the Northern Mariana Islands, Abramoff clients who were battling congressional efforts to impose federal control.

Northern Mariana Gov. Benigno R. Fitial wrote that Abramoff lobbied for the U.S. territory "during one of the darkest periods in our short history as a largely self-governing" commonwealth, a time when unions and other misguided do-gooders were demanding federal control of immigration -- which fuels the territory's growing sex trade -- and application of minimum-wage and other worker protections to the clothing factories there. Critics say the factories, which produce "Made in USA" goods, are little more than sweatshops.

Another letter came from Willie Tan , who introduced himself as someone "engaged in various international business enterprises," including "apparel manufacturing."

A letter from well-known Washington attorney Nathan Lewin risked reminding Huck that Abramoff opened a kosher deli in downtown D.C. "at great personal sacrifice." Would have been less "sacrifice" if the failed operation had served better food. The real danger was that Huck might have dined there and had one of those potato knishes apparently microwaved so much that the potato filling was liquefied. If so, Huck would have been thinking summary execution, not leniency.

And there was a warm letter from Rabbi Daniel Lapin , urging leniency and noting Abramoff was not your "average criminal." Problem is, Lapin's letter might have reminded Huck that Abramoff contributed money to Lapin's group, Toward Tradition, to pay the salary of the wife of a top aide to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

Even worse, Lapin's letter might have reminded Huck of the hilarious September 2000 e-mail exchange, funnier than anything even the morally and ethically bankrupt protagonists in "The Producers" might have concocted:

"I hate to ask you for your help with something so silly," Abramoff wrote, "but I've been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, which is a very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc. Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none.

"I was wondering," Abramoff continued, " if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?

"Indeed, it would be even better if it were possible that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean," Abramoff wrote. Ah, yes, a backdated, phony award.

No problem. "I just need to know what needs to be produced," Lapin responded. "Letters? Plaques?" Lapin now says he was joking, but one news report said Abramoff did get awards from Toward Tradition.

Well, the risks must have paid off. Huck went as low as legally possible on the sentence, five years and 10 months.

Unclear if Abramoff got his Cosmos membership.

Gone With the Gym?

There is some chatter that Reps. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.) and Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio), who are retiring next year, have resigned from the House gym. Talk was these moves might have been in protest of new House rules that prohibit former members-turned-lobbyists from going there.

Our colleague Jeffrey Birnbaum placed three phone calls to each office, calls that produced no confirmation or denial from either member's staff. That non-response is a violation of the venerable Loop Three-Call Rule, thus permitting us to write about this unconfirmed, undenied rumor. (No doubt we'll be writing about this for Monday's column.)

And One More . . .

Monday's column should have included Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher , who was shot down over Iraq on the first day of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, as still listed as "missing-captured." A U.S. intelligence team in Iraq last year found no clues to his fate.

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