Abramoff Scandal
Ex-official sentenced for role in Abramoff scandal

A former Bush administration official who used to lobby for the Indian gaming industry was sentenced on Friday to 18 months in prison for his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

David H. Safavian wept in a Washington, D.C., courtroom as he pleaded for leniency. But the judge who handled the case said the former official expressed no remorse for lying about his ties to Abramoff, a high-powered lobbyist who billed tribes millions in exchange for access in the nation's capitol.

Safavian "came to work in an environment that has become, frankly, more and more corrupt," U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said, according to news reports. "It's become corrupted by money."

A jury convicted Safavian on charges of lying to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, lying to the General Services Administration, and obstructing justice. He denied giving inside information to Abramoff when asked by federal investigators.

"I didn't see anything wrong in helping Jack," Safavian said in court, according to news reports.

Safavian and Abramoff were friends long before Safavian joined the Bush administration. In the 1990s, they worked at the same lobbying firm where Abramoff rose to prominence on the millions he billed to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and other tribes.

"He might be the only person in Washington who claims Jack Abramoff is a friend," Safavian's lawyer said during pre-trial arguments.

Safavian started to make a name for himself when he formed his owned firm with Grover Norquist, another Abramoff ally. Their client list include the National Indian Gaming Association and other gaming tribes whose interests were similar to Abramoff's.

But NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens has distanced the organization from the controversy. "I have been doing this for 10 years," Stevens, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, said earlier this year. "Never once have I seen Jack Abramoff in our camp."

Still, lobbying records put NIGA and Team Abramoff in close quarters. Before the scandal broke in February 2004, the two sides pressed Congress on nearly the same issues -- Internet gaming, taxation of tribal gaming revenues and appropriations.

As chief of staff at the GSA and, later, as head of procurement in the White House Office of Management and Budget, Safavian wasn't directly involved in those matters. But in August 2002, he went on a lavish golfing excursion to Scotland that was financed partly by a Texas tribe whose casino Abramoff was trying to get reopened.

Safavian's claims about the nature of the trip, and Abramoff's role in organizing it, led to the indictment on charges of lying and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors tied the trip to Safavan's willingness to help Abramoff's lobbying needs. Around the same time as the junket -- which included former Congressman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes as part of the Texas casino fiasco -- Abramoff hatched a scheme to "use" one of his tribal clients to land a prize piece of federal property in Washington that was controlled by the GSA.

Safavian was the only person who refused to deal with federal prosecutors. Besides Abramoff, who is awaiting sentencing, every other figure connected to the controversy pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to defraud tribes and bribe a member of Congress.

Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, his primary associate, have been ordered to pay restitution to the tribes they admitted to defrauding. Abramoff vowed to repay about $25 million while Scanlon said he would pay $19.6 million.

The scandal tainted tribal lobbying efforts in Washington. "It's tougher now," Stevens said earlier this year. "People are going to try to use Indian Country as a scapegoat."

Department of Justice Statement:
Former GSA Chief of Staff David Safavian Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison on Charges of Obstruction, Making False Statements (October 27, 2006) $ad1