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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.