Ex-White House Aide Convicted
Saturday, December 20, 2008
A former top White House official was convicted yesterday of obstructing justice and lying to investigators about a lavish golf trip to Scotland and his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
It was the second time that David H. Safavian, former chief of staff at the General Services Administration, has been convicted on federal charges stemming from the government's wide-ranging probe of Abramoff. Safavian's 2006 conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court in June.
A jury in the District yesterday convicted Safavian of obstructing a GSA inspector general's investigation into the 2002 golf trip, which was largely financed by Abramoff, and of lying on a financial disclosure form about its costs. Safavian also was convicted of making false statements to an FBI agent and a GSA ethics officer. Safavian was acquitted of giving a false statement to a Senate committee.
No sentencing date was set by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman. After Safavian's first trial, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. Safavian, 41, who sighed and slumped his shoulders when Friedman read the verdict, declined to comment and is free pending sentencing.
His attorneys, Lawrence Robbins and Richard Sauber, issued a statement saying they were "naturally disappointed by the jury's decision and we look forward to vindication in future proceedings."
The Justice Department's case centered on Safavian's ties to Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist who was imprisoned for fraud and is serving a nearly six-year sentence.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Abramoff and Safavian worked together at a law firm in the 1990s. After Safavian took a top GSA job in 2002, Abramoff began asking him whether his clients could lease the Old Post Office in downtown Washington. Abramoff also requested help in leasing or purchasing a portion of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak for a Jewish school he supported. The GSA was trying to find ways to develop the properties.
As Safavian was helping Abramoff, the lobbyist invited the GSA official on an August 2002 golf trip with seven others to Scotland. Safavian's share for the trip, which included posh hotels and a private jet flight, came closer to $17,453 than the $3,100 check he gave Abramoff, prosecutors said.
In 2003, after receiving a tip, the GSA's inspector general opened an investigation into the golf trip. But the probe was dropped after Safavian told investigators that he had reimbursed Abramoff for his share of the costs. He also said that Abramoff had no business with the GSA, prosecutors said.
Safavian was the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget when he was arrested in 2005.