By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Italia Federici, the president of a Republican environmental group who came under Senate scrutiny last year because of her ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of tax evasion and obstructing a congressional investigation.
Federici, 37, is president of a nonprofit group founded in 1997 by Gale Norton -- before she became interior secretary -- and conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. Abramoff and his Indian tribal clients donated $500,000 to Federici's group between 2001 and 2003 in an effort to influence J. Steven Griles, the Interior Department's deputy secretary at the time, with whom Federici was romantically involved.
Federici withheld information and "made a series of materially false and fictitious declarations" in fall 2005 testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, according to documents filed yesterday in federal court. She has admitted she misled the committee "about the extent to which she, Abramoff and Griles communicated" about pending Interior Department issues "that directly affected Abramoff's clients."
Federici has agreed to cooperate in the wide-ranging public corruption investigation arising from Abramoff's lobbying activities, which, with her plea, has resulted in a dozen convictions of lawmakers, lobbyists and others.
"Italia Federici regrets her failure to timely file her income tax returns and pay her individual income taxes for tax years 2001 through 2003," her attorney Jonathan N. Rosen said in a statement. "She also regrets her past trust and confidence in Jack Abramoff, a then highly regarded Washington lobbyist who professed a shared interest in Ms. Federici's environmental advocacy, and obscured the number and nature of Mr. Abramoff's contacts with Mr. Griles."
Documents filed yesterday also said that Federici and the vice president of her group, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, "relied primarily on cash, including ATM transactions, to handle the finances of CREA." Instead of taking salaries, the two "obtained funds from CREA by directly withdrawing cash from CREA's bank account through ATM and teller transactions."
The council took in $723,000 in tribal and corporate donations between 2001 and 2003. Federici received $233,955 of that in taxable income and failed to pay $77,243 in taxes.
Each offense carries a possible penalty of up to five years in jail and a fine of $250,000, but prosecutors are recommending 10 to 16 months in jail. They said they may ask for a further reduction if she provides "substantial assistance" to investigators. Federici is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow to enter a plea.
Among those who may be immediately affected by her admissions is Griles, the highest-ranking executive branch official caught up the Abramoff probe. He has pleaded guilty to a felony count of obstructing the Senate investigation and is to be sentenced this month.
Griles's lawyers have said they will seek a lower sentence than the government's recommendation of 10 months split between jail and home detention. Their deadline for filing an argument with the court is tomorrow. Prosecutors could ask U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who is handling all the Abramoff cases, to consider the new details in Federici's filings when ruling on Griles's request.
Federici now admits that she acted as a conduit between Abramoff and Griles, having numerous in-depth discussions with each about matters affecting Abramoff's clients, and she acknowledges falsely minimizing those contacts when she testified before the Senate. The documents detail half a dozen times when Federici acted as a go-between, including in land disputes and efforts to derail casino ambitions of tribes that could rival those Abramoff represented. The lobbyist and an associate, former congressional aide Michael Scanlon, took in $82 million in fees from tribes.