By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006 12:38 PM
David H. Safavian, a former Bush administration official with close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, was found guilty today in federal court of four of five felony charges against him in connection with the Abramoff corruption and influence-peddling scandal.
The verdict was announced shortly after the jury of two men and 10 women began their fifth day of deliberations in Washington following the trial of Safavian on charges of making false statements to federal officials and obstruction of justice.
Safavian, 38, a former chief of staff of the General Services Administration and top federal procurement officer, was accused of lying about a 2002 golfing trip to Scotland with Abramoff and obstructing an investigation by the GSA inspector general and other investigators. He was also charged with concealing his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area.
He became the first person to be put on trial in connection with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to fraud and conspiracy charges. Four other former Abramoff associates also have pleaded guilty so far. As part of their plea deals, they have agreed to cooperate in an investigation of Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers allegedly embroiled in a broad public corruption scandal involving the acceptance of various inducements in return for official acts. Ney denies any wrongdoing.
The jury found Safavian guilty of three counts of making false statements -- to the GSA Office of Inspector General, a GSA ethics official and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee -- and one count of obstructing the GSA inspector general's investigation. He was acquitted of another charge of obstructing an investigation by the Indian Affairs Committee.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Safavian thus faces up to 20 years in prison for the four counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12 by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman.
Safavian, an Iranian American from Detroit, worked with Abramoff at a Washington lobbying firm in the 1990s, representing the Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe among other clients. In 1997, he formed an ideologically conservative lobbying group with Grover Norquist, a leading anti-tax lobbyist and prominent Republican activist.
Safavian became chief of staff of the GSA, the federal government's property management agency, in 2002. The following year, President Bush nominated him to be administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget in the White House. He began that job in November 2004.
Safavian resigned from the post last September and was placed under arrest after a federal grand jury returned an indictment against him.
The charges against Safavian stemmed from a federal probe that originally focused on Abramoff's dealings with Indian tribes, which brought Abramoff and an associate at least $82 million in fees. The investigation by an interagency federal task force turned up a trove of information about Abramoff's aggressive efforts to obtain favors for clients from members of Congress and top Bush administration bureaucrats.
One such endeavor, an August 2002 trip by chartered jet to Scotland, included golf at the Old Course at St. Andrews and other historic courses. Safavian, then the GSA's chief of staff, was one of nine people, including Abramoff, who went on the trip. Among the others were Ney, then chairman of the House Administration Committee; Ralph Reed, a lobbyist and former leader of the Christian Coalition; and Neil G. Volz, a lobbying associate of Abramoff's who formerly worked on Ney's staff. The total cost of the trip came to more than $130,000.
In keeping with GSA rules that prohibit the receipt of a gift from any person seeking official action by the agency, Safavian assured a GSA ethics officer in writing that Abramoff had "no business before GSA" at the time of the trip. Based on that pledge, Safavian was given permission to go on the trip.
However, according to the indictment, Abramoff by then had repeatedly contacted Safavian about the possibility of leasing the Old Post Office, a century-old Washington building managed by the GSA, for his clients. Abramoff also had secretly enlisted Safavian in an effort to acquire 40 acres of land on the site of the GSA-managed Naval Surface Warfare Center - White Oak, a 600-acre property in Silver Spring, Md. Abramoff wanted the land to use as a campus for a Hebrew school he had founded.
According to a criminal complaint, Safavian lied about his contacts with Abramoff on three occasions after his initial false statement to the GSA ethics officer about the trip to Scotland.
In addition to Abramoff, the former associates who have pleaded guilty so far in the corruption probe are Volz, Adam Kidan, Michael Scanlon and Tony C. Rudy. Kidan was Abramoff's partner in a Florida casino cruise ship company that was purchased with the help of a fraudulently obtained bank loan. Scanlon and Rudy are lobbying associates who formerly worked for Tom DeLay, the once-powerful Republican congressman from Texas and former House majority leader who left office June 9.
DeLay, who was enlisted by Abramoff to help defeat efforts to rein in labor and human rights abuses in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a former Abramoff client, was indicted last year in Texas in a separate case involving the alleged laundering of political contributions. DeLay has denied the charges.