Ex-Deputy Pleads Guilty in Abramoff Case

The Associated Press
Friday, March 23, 2007; 3:57 PM

WASHNINGTON -- Former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles on Friday became the highest-ranking Bush administration official convicted in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, pleading guilty to obstructing justice by lying to a Senate committee.

The former No. 2 official in the Interior Department admitted in federal court that he lied to investigators about his relationship with convicted lobbyist Abramoff, who repeatedly sought Griles' intervention at Interior on behalf of Indian tribal clients.

Griles, an oil and gas lobbyist who became an architect of President Bush's energy policies, is the ninth person convicted in a continuing Justice Department probe. The government is still actively investigating other public officials linked to Abramoff, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Abramoff's ties to at least three other current or former Republican lawmakers have come under scrutiny in the criminal probe: Rep. John Doolittle of California, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and former Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana. None of them has been charged; all have denied wrongdoing. One former House member, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, already is serving a jail term on a guilty plea.

Griles pleaded guilty to a felony charge of obstruction, admitting in a plea agreement that he lied in testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Nov. 2, 2005, and during an earlier deposition with the panel's investigators on October 20, 2005.

"I am sorry for my wrongdoing. I fully accept the responsibility for my conduct and the consequences it may have," he said in a statement. "When a Senate committee asks questions, they must be answered fully and completely and it is not my place to decide whether those questions are relevant or too personal."

Prosecutors recommended that Griles serve no more than a 10-month sentence _ the minimum they could seek under sentencing guidelines _ but only half of it in prison. The other five months would be in either a halfway house or under house arrest. The maximum sentence he could face is five years and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for June 26.

Griles acknowledged in court papers that he lied when he said his relationship with Abramoff wasn't unique. What was unique about it, he said in the court papers, was that Griles' then-girlfriend, Italia Federici, had introduced him to Abramoff.

The Justice Department says Federici's introduction gave Abramoff "more credibility as a lobbyist than Abramoff ordinarily would have had with Griles," quickly putting them on terms "that ordinarily would have taken years to develop."

Just two months ago, Griles also faced the prospect of also being charged with fraud and criminal conflict of interest.

Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said the case shows the Justice Department is willing to go after "public corruption at all levels of government."

Earl Devaney, the Interior Department's inspector general, praised many Interior employees who he said told the truth about Griles during various investigations of him "sometimes at great risk to their own careers."

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