Prison Time Is Urged for Griles

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 16, 2007

Former deputy interior secretary J. Steven Griles asked lobbyist Jack Abramoff for many favors for close female friends and in exchange helped Abramoff's clients at the government agency, according to prosecutors, who urged a federal judge to give Griles substantial prison time.

Griles pleaded guilty in March to a felony count of obstructing the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation of Abramoff, admitting that he lied to the panel and its investigators about his relationship with the now-convicted lobbyist. A Justice Department memo filed in court yesterday contends that Griles avidly pushed Abramoff's requests, sometimes browbeating officials who objected and advising the lobbyist how to get around them.

In a detailed 48-page memo prepared for Griles's sentencing later this month before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, prosecutors said Griles "was not shy" about asking for jobs and financial help for four women who were "his close personal friends."

Cited in the sentencing papers are the sworn statements of Italia Federici, one of Griles's former girlfriends who ran a Republican environmental advocacy group. Federici this month pleaded guilty to tax and perjury charges and agreed to cooperate with the government's wide-ranging Abramoff probe.

Griles, who is not cooperating in the investigation, agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a recommended split sentence of 10 months -- five months in jail and five months in a halfway house or in home detention. Prosecutors are bound to stick with that recommendation, but the judge is not. Griles's attorneys have asked her to consider probation and community service instead.

Prosecutors urged Huvelle to consider that Griles's obstruction prevented the Senate from discovering "the secret, unique, sustained and unfettered access Abramoff had to the self-proclaimed 'Chief Operating Officer' " of the Interior Department. They did not seek a harsher sentence only because they have "uncovered no evidence that defendant Griles personally accepted any money or gifts from Abramoff."

According to the court documents, Griles and Abramoff met on March 1, 2001, a week before Griles's nomination, at a breakfast arranged by Federici at the Hay-Adams Hotel. Abramoff told Griles of his tribes' interests at the Interior Department and pushed his colleagues for jobs there. Federici discussed financing her group -- the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA). The meeting set the course of a "triangular relationship" for the next several years, the prosecutors said.

"Abramoff . . . thought that if he and his clients contributed money to CREA, then Abramoff would be afforded special access to defendant Griles through Federici," the prosecutors wrote. They cited a March 21, 2001, e-mail Abramoff sent Federici saying that Griles had asked for $100,000 for CREA, and that he would "see if I can break some funds free from the tribes."

Griles and Federici, according to the government, attended a meeting at the White House so CREA could obtain an advance copy of the vice president's energy task force report "and offer to conduct a favorable study and public opinion polling." Within a week, Abramoff had gotten the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to send CREA a check for $50,000, saying it was for a poll then-Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton wanted about oil drilling in Alaska.

Over the next two years, Federici's group took in $500,000 from Abramoff and his tribal clients.

Prosecutors also contend that Griles asked Abramoff to help organize and finance a charity conceived by another woman he was dating, this one to pay the education costs of children of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Abramoff agreed, but someone else beat them to the idea. Prosecutors also wrote that Griles asked Abramoff to get his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, to hire two other women he was dating.

"She will make you lots of money. She has one client from New Mexico who has large sums and wants into Indian gaming. . . . Jack, at least talk to her and I think you will make her an offer," a Griles e-mail said.

Prosecutors contend that Griles himself engaged in questionable job talks with Abramoff over a five-month period, contrary to his statement to the Senate. Griles told the Senate that he had a fleeting discussion, told Abramoff he was not interested, and reported the encounter to an Interior ethics officer.

Federici, in pleading guilty, admitted acting as a go-between and having discussions with Griles about many issues affecting Abramoff clients, among them the Louisiana Coushatta Tribe, the Mississippi Choctaws, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In one instance, prosecutors contend that Griles took a senior lawyer in the department "to the proverbial woodshed" over a draft letter she had written to Congress saying that a wealthy tribe Abramoff represented was not eligible for a $3 million school-funding grant.

Griles told the Senate panel and its investigators that his relationship with Abramoff was no different from that with any lobbyist, and that Abramoff's claims to have "special access to my office on behalf of his Indian gaming clients . . . is outrageous and it is not true." In pleading guilty, he admitted that he had misled the Senate and that meeting Abramoff through Federici had given the lobbyist special status.

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