- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Jack Abramoff yesterday pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud in a $23 million scheme to purchase gambling boats in Miami, a day after admitting to fraud and tax evasion charges in a separate scandal that threatens several congressmen.

Abramoff, 46, the once-powerful Washington lobbyist and friend to both Republicans and Democrats, said he defrauded lenders in a gambling boat deal in 2000, using phony documents to obtain $60 million in loans toward the $147.5 million sale of SunCruz Casinos by Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis to a group of investors headed by Abramoff and his partner, Adam R. Kidan.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck set sentencing for March 16. Under a plea bargain, Abramoff faces six years in prison for his conviction of conspiracy and wire fraud. Kidan pleaded guilty in the case in December. A federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. indicted both men in August.

The plea agreement requires Abramoff to cooperate in the Justice Department’s ongoing corruption investigation in Washington.

On Tuesday, Abramoff told U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington that he had taken part in a scheme involving the “corruption of public officials.” As part of that plea bargain, Abramoff agreed to pay at least $25 million in restitution, which federal prosecutors described as the profits he concealed as part of the conspiracy.

One source close to the Washington investigation said “a minimum” of 20 people are of interest to federal investigators in the probe, including elected officials.

Another federal law-enforcement official said the corruption probe is being fueled by a “treasure trove” of e-mails sent by Abramoff and his associates to several elected officials.

In court Tuesday, Abramoff acknowledged that he and others “provided things of value” to one elected official, identified only as “Representative No. 1,” in exchange for a series of officials acts. The representative has been identified as Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, who has denied any wrongdoing.

President Bush, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and his successor, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, yesterday joined several congressmen who said they will return or donate to charity campaign cash they received from Abramoff or groups he represented.

“While we firmly believe the contributions were legal at the time of receipt, the plea indicates that such contributions may not have been given in the spirit in which they were received,” said Mr. Blunt’s spokeswoman Burson Taylor.

Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign will return $6,000 in contributions tied to Abramoff. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert announced earlier this week that he also would return contributions from Abramoff or give them to charity.

Democrats who yesterday said they would return the donations include Sen. Richard J. Durbin and Rep. Lane Evans, both of Illinois.

Abramoff helped raise $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney ‘04 re-election campaign, earning the honorary title “pioneer” from the campaign. The campaign said it will return only $6,000 that came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes he represented.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt told reporters yesterday that there was nothing to indicate that contributions from other donors represents “anything other than enthusiastic support for the (Bush-Cheney) BC-04 re-election campaign.”

cAudrey Hudson contributed to this article.

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