By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Italia Federici, who served as lobbyist Jack Abramoff's conduit to the top ranks of the Interior Department, was sentenced yesterday to two months in a halfway house during a day in court that touched on her romantic liaisons, tax evasion and conduct before the Senate.
Federici, the onetime president of a Republican environmental group, had pleaded guilty to evading taxes and obstructing the Senate's investigation of Abramoff's lobbying for Indian tribes. Prosecutors suggested that she receive home detention instead of incarceration because of her cooperation with the ongoing investigation into the Abramoff scandal. For her colleague at the environmental group, Robert Jared Carpenter, who also pleaded guilty to tax evasion, prosecutors recommended a sentence of 10 to 16 months in jail.
But U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle rejected their recommendations, insisting that Federici serve some time, in part as an example to others. She gave Federici 60 days in a halfway house plus four years of probation and ordered her to pay $77,243 in restitution.
At a hearing later in the day, the judge rejected the harsher sentence for Carpenter, saying she was concerned about "parity," and sentenced him to 45 days in a halfway house plus four years of probation. He is to pay $74,000 in restitution.
Federici admitted that she knowingly failed to pay income taxes on $187,000 in salary she drew over three years from the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) and that she "minimized the extent of information I had" when she testified in 2005 about Abramoff and former Interior deputy secretary J. Steven Griles before openly skeptical members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Federici, 38, was a go-between for Griles, with whom she was linked romantically, and Abramoff, who had his tribal clients donate $500,000 to her group.
Jonathan Rosen, Federici's lawyer, told the court that Abramoff and Griles took advantage of Federici. "This young D.C. neophyte," Rosen said, was used for "pleasure and gain." He cited Federici's long involvement in public causes such as the environment as a testament to her character.
Huvelle asked Federici why anyone would "believe for a minute" that Abramoff's client contributions were unconnected to her role as an intermediary: "You didn't understand there was any quid pro quo going on?"
"It did strike me as odd," Federici said. But, she added, "at the time I viewed Mr. Abramoff as what we in the nonprofit community call an angel," explaining that she saw him as "a truly ideologically aligned Republican." CREA was founded by Gale Norton, who was later Interior secretary, and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.
Still, Huvelle credited Federici's aid to the federal task force investigating Abramoff's activities. "I agree she has cooperated extensively," she said.
Both Rosen and prosecutors said Federici has spent more than 100 hours with investigators providing information that goes beyond her relationship with Griles. "We have spent hours, days and nights, working on other high-profile cases," Rosen said.
Griles pleaded guilty to obstructing the Senate investigation, admitting he concealed the nature of his relationship with Federici and Abramoff, and was sentenced to 10 months in jail. Earlier this year, he married yet another figure in the Abramoff probe -- Sue Ellen Wooldridge, a former lawyer with the Justice Department who previously worked with Griles at Interior.
At the second sentencing hearing yesterday, prosecutor Mark Daly called Carpenter, Federici's vice president, "a marginal figure," a description echoed by Carpenter's lawyer, G. Allen Dale, who called him "a footnote in the Abramoff investigation."
Carpenter, said Dale, knew nothing whatever of Federici's dealings -- romantic or otherwise -- with Griles, explaining: "Italia and Mr. Carpenter were lovers. She didn't share pillow talk with him. . . . That was her little secret world."
Justice Department lawyers told Huvelle that they had recommended jail time for Carpenter because, unlike Federici, he had nothing to aid their investigation and thus could not qualify for a reduced sentence. The judge questioned the fairness of giving Federici's underling the harsher punishment.
"You're saying . . . when you go down the food chain, some people have nothing to give," Huvelle said.
Tax prosecutor Karen Kelly agreed. "Some people are players," she said.