By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009
A former top White House official was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in federal prison for obstructing justice and lying to officials and 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, a former chief of staff at the General Services Administration, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman on a conviction stemming from a federal probe of Abramoff's illicit lobbying activities. In 2006, Friedman sentenced Safavian to 18 months, but the underlying conviction was thrown out last year by an appeals court.
Prosecutors retried Safavian. He was convicted in December on charges of lying to a GSA ethics officer, obstructing a GSA investigation into the 2002 golf trip and lying on financial disclosure forms about its costs. He was also convicted of making false statements to an FBI agent.
He was acquitted of lying to a Senate committee.
Safavian, 42, and his wife, Jennifer, begged Friedman for leniency in a hearing Friday in the District's federal court, saying their family had suffered enough without having to endure a prison sentence. They are bankrupt, Safavian will lose his law license and he will be barred from contracting with the government, they said.
Jennifer Safavian said she was pregnant with their second child. They said they were worried about how their 6-year-old daughter would cope if her father were sent to prison. Safavian conceded that he had made mistakes and used poor judgment but said that he did not think he had broken any laws. "I beg you to take into account how what I have to go through will impact my family," he told the judge.
Prosecutors urged Friedman to impose prison time, saying in court papers that Safavian had "lied repeatedly" to officials and investigators from 2002 through 2005.
Friedman said he agreed that a prison term was appropriate and that he would allow Safavian to wait until after his child is born to enter prison.
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 or purchase two GSA properties, the Old Post Office in downtown Washington or a portion of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak.
While helping Abramoff find ways to obtain the properties, Safavian took the August 2002 golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff and seven others. 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.
The jury found that Safavian lied to a GSA ethics officer before taking the trip when he reported that Abramoff did all his work on Capitol Hill and did not mention he was helping Abramoff with the GSA properties.
The jury found that Safavian also gave false statements in 2005 to an FBI agent investigating the Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Safavian left the high-ranking GSA job in 2004 to become administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget at the White House.