- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 9, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Italia Federici, an ally of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty yesterday to tax evasion and obstructing a Senate investigation into the Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Federici’s plea was part of a deal with the Justice Department that two persons close to the case said could lead investigators to officials in Congress and the Bush administration.

In court, Federici said little more than “Yes, your honor” to each of the questions asked by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. Federici smiled and chatted occasionally while seated at a table with her lawyers. Neither she nor her lawyers talked to reporters outside the courtroom.

Federici served as a go-between for Abramoff, who currently is in prison, and former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, whom she dated from 1998 to about May 2003. Griles also has pleaded guilty to lying to Senate investigators about his relationships with Abramoff and Federici.

Federici acknowledged lying about this relationship when she testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which in 2005 was investigating Abramoff’s dealings with the Interior Department.

She also admitted supplementing her salary as co-founder of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy by making ATM withdrawals directly from the organization’s bank accounts. Court documents say she did not pay income tax from 2001 through 2003 and owes tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

Judge Huvelle accepted Federici’s guilty pleas and set a sentencing hearing for Nov. 16.

Federici agreed to pay $77,243 in back taxes and could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each of the two counts. Under federal sentencing guidelines, she is more likely to get 10 months to 16 months plus a fine of $3,000 to $30,000 for each count.

Federici founded the environmental advocacy group with Gale A. Norton before Mrs. Norton was named Interior secretary by President Bush in 2001. Also helping start the group was Grover Norquist, a college friend of Abramoff and a close ally of Mr. Bush.

Authorities think Federici may be able to provide information about Mrs. Norton, other Bush administration officials and the contacts that she, Abramoff and Griles cultivated in Congress, according to two persons close to the investigation. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

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