By Peter Whoriskey and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 30, 2006
MIAMI March 29 -- Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful Washington lobbyist whose downfall has propelled a far-reaching congressional corruption investigation, was sentenced Wednesday to five years and 10 months in prison for his role in the fraudulent purchase of a fleet of casino cruise boats.
U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff, 47, and his former partner Adam Kidan, 41, to the shortest possible prison terms under sentencing guidelines after prosecutors affirmed that both men have been aiding the ongoing investigations and had expressed remorse. Abramoff's attorneys said he has reviewed "thousands of documents" in the inquiry, which could reach members of Congress, congressional staff members and employees of federal agencies, including the Interior Department.
"They're both trying to atone by cooperating," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence D. LaVecchio said in court.
Abramoff, dressed in a gray double-breasted suit, appeared somber and detached during the proceedings. His wife, Pam, also attended.
In a subdued monotone, he told the judge that the day was "incredibly painful" for him, as well as his family and friends.
"Over the past two years, I have started the process of becoming a new man. I am much chastened and profoundly remorseful over the reckless and hurtful things I have done in my life, especially those which have brought me before you today. I can only hope that the Almighty and those whom I have wronged will forgive me my trespasses, and that God grants me the time on this earth to make amends."
Abramoff will also face sentencing in Washington after pleading guilty in January to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. He could receive a prison term of more than nine years on those charges, but prosecutors have agreed to recommend that the sentences from that case and the Miami case be served concurrently.
His prison time could be reduced further if he provides substantial assistance to corruption investigators, and both prosecutors and defense attorneys said he has been helpful so far.
"The literally hundreds of hours he has spent, the hundreds of thousands of documents he has reviewed, and the dozens of topics he has been assisting with in themselves would merit a sentence at the bottom of the stipulated range," attorneys Neal Sonnett and Abbe Lowell wrote in a court filing.
What he is telling investigators is not known, however.
"This is not the time to show all he's done," Lowell told the judge Wednesday. That would come later, he said, presumably when the investigation is complete and Abramoff's attorneys ask for a reduced sentence based on his cooperation.
In requesting the minimum sentence for the Florida charges, lawyers for Abramoff and Kidan laid most of the blame on the other for the gambling boat scam, in which the pair faked a $23 million wire transfer to fraudulently obtain a $60 million loan for the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos. Abramoff and Kidan pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud in the case, and under sentencing guidelines, each faced a minimum of five years and 10 months and a maximum of seven years and three months in prison.
In addition to their prison terms, Huck ordered Abramoff and Kidan to pay $21.7 million in restitution and to serve three years' probation upon their release.
He also agreed to allow them at least 90 days before beginning their sentences so they can continue to cooperate with investigators looking into government corruption and the gangland-style killing in 2001 of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, with whom Abramoff and Kidan quarreled.
Three men have been charged with the killing, one of whom -- allegedly connected to the mafia in New York -- was hired by Kidan to provide catering and security services for SunCruz.
Abramoff and Kidan have denied any involvement in the death.
Abramoff's notoriety is more closely associated with his Washington influence, however. Among the congressmen whose names have come up in the investigation are Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), former chairman of the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the former House majority leader.
Ney has been identified as the "Representative #1" who, according to court documents, received bribes from Abramoff in exchange for official acts, including statements in the Congressional Record that promoted the SunCruz deal.
Mark Tuohey, an attorney for Ney, said he and Ney have recently been seeking to persuade prosecutors not to bring charges in Washington or Florida. An agreement Ney signed last fall that waived the five-year statute of limitations on possible charges in Florida will expire in late April. Tuohey said his client will not accept any plea deal.
DeLay, who once described Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends," took three overseas trips with the lobbyist and received more than $70,000 in political contributions from him, his associates and his Indian tribal clients. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Before the sentencing, Abramoff's attorneys sought to portray him as a man who had been unfairly caricatured by newspaper reporters and late-night comics.
They submitted a memo that amounted to a biography, opening with his childhood in Atlantic City; his embrace of Orthodox Judaism at age 13 -- despite his parents' concern that he may be shunned by mainstream society -- the family's move to Beverly Hills and his standing as an All-Conference high school football star there.
The memo followed his career path from national chairman of the College Republicans to his days as a movie producer who forbade foul language, and his work as a lobbyist. Noting his efforts to start a Jewish school, Eshkol Academy in Columbia, Md., and a kosher restaurant, the biography suggests Abramoff's life was more often guided by religion than greed.
Among the court submissions were supportive letters from more than 260 of Abramoff's friends, relatives and associates -- including one from his 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, who wrote that she burst into tears after hearing actor George Clooney joke about her father during the Golden Globe awards ceremony.
"Our five children, all teenagers, love and need their dad," his wife wrote. "I cannot imagine the pain and suffering we would all endure should Jack be incarcerated."
Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report from Washington. Branigin reported from Washington.