Safavian Denies Giving Tip on Stock

Bloomberg News
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Former General Services Administration chief of staff David H. Safavian testified at his criminal trial yesterday that information he gave lobbyist Jack Abramoff about a federal action affecting Tyco International Inc. was publicly available.

Safavian, 38, is accused of concealing information and advice he gave Abramoff about GSA properties and actions. He is also charged with obstructing inquiries into a 2002 golf outing to Scotland that Abramoff arranged for him and others.

Prosecutors said in a January court filing that Safavian tipped off Abramoff in 2003 that Tyco, a client of his, was about to be suspended from U.S. contracts. Yesterday in federal court, prosecutor Peter R. Zeidenberg asked Safavian about that information and whether he told Abramoff to sell Tyco stock.

Safavian said he told Abramoff only that Tyco had just been placed on the suspension list, a document he said was public. As for allegations that he told Abramoff to sell stock, "That is not true," Safavian said. "That's a pure fabrication."

A federal government task force has spent more than a year investigating the actions of government employees in connection with Abramoff, 47, once a top Republican lobbyist. He pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to corrupt public officials.

Safavian's case is the first in the Abramoff investigation to go to trial. Four of Abramoff's former associates -- Adam Kidan, Tony C. Rudy, Michael Scanlon and Neil G. Volz -- have pleaded guilty.

Lawyers for both sides finished questioning Safavian yesterday. His lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, wrapped up her defense and prosecutors don't plan to call any more witnesses in the trial, which began May 24. The trial is adjourned until June 12 -- when both sides will give closing arguments -- because of a judicial conference and schedule conflicts.

Prosecutors have alleged that Safavian gave Abramoff inside information on an internal debate at GSA over how to handle suspensions, as well as advice on what arguments Tyco could make to appeal the decision. Safavian said yesterday that many people knew about the debate.

"That was not a state secret at GSA," he said under cross-examination by Zeidenberg.

When prosecutors made the allegation public in January, Tyco released a statement saying the company did not solicit the tip and had acted appropriately. Tyco's law firm persuaded the GSA to lift the suspension, the company said at the time. Tyco, based in Bermuda and run from West Windsor, N.J., has businesses including medical products and security systems.

Safavian said he has known Abramoff since 1994, when they worked as lobbyists at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds in Washington. He described Abramoff as a mentor and said the two remained friends over the years.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company