Abramoff free, despite sentence

The Age, March 31, 2006:
FORSAKING his trademark fedora for a baseball cap, lobbyist extraordinaire Jack Abramoff walked out of a Florida courtroom, despite having just been sentenced to five years' jail for conspiracy and fraud.

Wearing a double-breasted suit and the cap, with his wife on his arm, the one-time King of K Street — Washington's lobbying centre — was allowed to stay free for the next few months because of his co-operation with an investigation into the buying of congressmen.


Abramoff faces up to 11 years in jail on a separate charge in Washington of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. His sentence could be reduced — and served concurrently with the Miami sentence — for his continuing co-operation in the bribery probe.

Although no politicians have been charged, Republican Robert Ney of Ohio, the former chairman of the House Administration Committee, has been identified as the congressman referred to in court documents as receiving bribes from Abramoff. Mr Ney denies any wrongdoing.

Abramoff has also been closely identified with Tom DeLay, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives, who once described Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends".

A former press secretary to Mr DeLay, Michael Scanlon, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials, and is co-operating in the Abramoff case.

Hours after the sentencing, the Senate voted to ban themselves from accepting meals or gifts from lobbyists, increase exposure of contacts with lobbyists, and double the time before former politicians could become lobbyists.

But critics charged the measure as half-hearted. It did not ban them accepting privately funded travel, nor establish an independent office to investigate ethical breaches.


Washington's Invisible Man

An advance copy of this article appearing in the April 2006 issue of Vanity Fair can be read here.

The other shoe seems poised to drop in Washington, implicating perhaps a handful of senators and congressmen, as well as their staffs, relatives, and other public officials. The most obvious target is Ney. In their heyday, he and Abramoff played golf together, traveled together, philosophized together. Ney was one of the few elected officials Abramoff invited to the BarMitzvah of one of his three sons. Now Ney says that Abramoff “duped” and “misled” him. But, according to the plea agreement, Ney threw a lucrative contract to an Abramoff client, intervened with agencies and offices to seek favors for other Abramoff interests, helped a relative of one of Abramoff’s Russian clients obtain an American visa, agreed to introduce legislation that would help reopen the Tigua casino, and, to assist Abramoff in buying the SunCruz line, read two statements into the Congressional Record, one in which he described Abramoff’s main partner in that deal, Adam Kidan—a man who’d
been disbarred, declared bankruptcy, and had Mob ties—as a man of the utmost

For such services, Ney, according to the plea agreement, got “a stream of things of value” from Abramoff and those he represented: a “lavish” golf trip to St. Andrews, seats in Abramoff’s sports boxes, freebie dinners at Signatures (Ney was a "sushiholic," one eyewitness recalls), and at least $37,500 in donations to various political-action committees on his behalf. Rather than go for Ney immediately, prosecutors appear to be encircling him, possibly striking plea deals with frightened staffers, themselves desperate to stay out of jail.


Lobbyist's Credit Card Bill Outs DeLay Trip

ABC News, March 2, 2006:
The paper trail seems so obvious it makes you wonder whether anyone ever worried about getting caught. When Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and his wife flew from Houston to a golf resort in Scotland in June 2000, the first-class airfare cost $14,001, a big-ticket item for a public servant. But someone else paid.

The American Express bills of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January, show he footed the bill for the tickets, in an apparent violation of House ethics rules.

"The source of the travel expenses may not be ... a registered lobbyist," according to the House rules. Abramoff was a registered lobbyist at the time.

DeLay's attorney told The Washington Post last year that DeLay was unaware of the "logistics" of bill payments and did not believe Abramoff paid for the tickets.

"This is a classic example of why the ethics rules have to be reformed," said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a nonprofit watchdog group. "The Scotland trip was a trip to play golf, pure and simple, and private interests should not be allowed to finance those kinds of trips and gain influence with members in return."

Abramoff pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy, honest-services mail fraud and tax evasion. Officials said Abramoff had brought corruption to a new level at the Capitol.

"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff was very extensive, and the investigation continues," said Alice Fisher, the head of the Department of Justice's criminal division.

One aspect of Abramoff's corruption scheme was the free trips he provided to politicians to the Super Bowl, a golf resort in Scotland and to the northern Mariana Islands in the South Pacific.

An ABC News hidden camera recorded Abramoff greeting and hugging DeLay as he arrived in the northern Marianas.

DeLay, the former House majority leader, was only one congressman out of dozens who accepted the lobbyist's trips and campaign contributions.

"There are many members of Congress who will not sleep well tonight," said Wertheimer at the time of the investigation. "This is a blockbuster of an investigation that will reach deep inside the power structure."

Federal authorities told ABC News that Abramoff began providing details of his dealings with DeLay and pinpointing a long list of senators and representatives more than a year ago.

At least nine have since returned Abramoff's campaign contributions, and all, including DeLay, have denied any wrongdoing.

Officials told ABC News that the first congressman to be indicted for bribery is expected to be Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.


Ney campaign gives out golf tees?!

Buckeye State Blog, March 1, 2006: