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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Abramoff gets 5 years, 10 months in the slammer

One down.... -hl

Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist at the center of a Washington corruption scandal, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison in an unrelated fraud case in Florida.

U.S. District Judge Paul Huck in Miami accepted the plea of Abramoff's lawyers for the shortest possible prison time. The lawyers had submitted a 61-page memorandum attesting to Abramoff's character and remorse, along with 262 letters of support, including one from U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican.

Abramoff, 47, was given 90 days in which to voluntarily surrender, although Huck said his lawyers could come back and ask for more time. Abramoff is cooperating with investigators in the Washington corruption case, and his lawyers have argued that he needs to remain free to continue those discussions.

"I can only hope that the Almighty and those that I have wronged will forgive my trespasses,'' Abramoff said to the judge before sentencing.

Before the allegations of fraud and bribery came to light, Abramoff was one of the Republican Party's most prolific fund- raisers and one of Washington's best-connected lobbyists. He raised at least $100,000 for President George W. Bush's re- election campaign in 2004 and counted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas among his friends.

Casino-Boat Purchase

A grand jury in Florida indicted Abramoff in August on six counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with his $147.5 million purchase of the SunCruz casino-boat company in 2000. Prosecutors said Abramoff and business partner Adam Kidan provided false information on a loan application and used a counterfeit document to mislead lenders.

Abramoff and Kidan had attested that they contributed $23 million in cash toward the SunCruz purchase, a condition of obtaining a $60 million loan. To buttress their claim, they sent a false statement indicating the money had been transferred to the account of SunCruz's former owner, Gus Boulis.

Boulis was killed gangland-style in 2001. Three men were arrested last September and charged with murder.

Abramoff initially pleaded not guilty, then changed his plea on Jan. 4, a day after he admitted to defrauding clients and conspiring to corrupt public officials in a federal court in Washington. Kidan pleaded guilty in December.

Washington Conspiracy

In the Washington case, Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy to corrupt public officials, mail fraud and tax evasion. He faces 30 years in prison in that case, although the Justice Department said it will recommend a reduced sentence depending on how much he cooperates.

The government says Abramoff and former business partner Michael Scanlon, a one-time aide to DeLay, pocketed tens of millions of dollars from Indian-tribe clients; set up a foundation that financed a trip to Scotland for public officials and Abramoff's colleagues; and provided a "stream of things of value'' to officials, including money, meals, trips and entertainment to entice them to help the lobbyist.

At least two Republican lawmakers have been connected to the Florida case. Abramoff listed Rohrabacher as a reference for his loan, the Washington Post reported. And according to the Washington indictment, Representative Bob Ney placed comments in the Congressional Record that were helpful to Abramoff's bid to buy the company. Ney, an Ohio Republican, has denied wrongdoing.

These days, Abramoff is spending much of his time talking to prosecutors and investigators in Washington. His attorneys said he has spent hundreds of hours with them and reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents as part of his cooperation.