- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A jury found former Bush administration official David Safavian guilty yesterday of covering up his dealings with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Safavian was convicted on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction. He had resigned from his White House post last year as the federal government’s chief procurement officer.

The verdict gave a boost to the wide-ranging influence-peddling probe focusing on Abramoff’s dealings with Congress.

In the Safavian case, prosecutors highlighted the name of Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican. They introduced a photograph of the congressman and Abramoff standing in front of a private jet that whisked them and other members of a golfing party for a five-day trip to St. Andrews Old Course in Scotland. Safavian went on the trans-Atlantic trip while he was chief of staff at the General Services Administration (GSA).

The trial consumed eight days of testimony about Safavian’s assistance to Abramoff regarding government-owned real estate and the excursion to Scotland that the lobbyist organized. The verdict came on the fifth day of jury deliberations.

Safavian showed no expression when the judge announced the guilty verdicts on each of four counts. Sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 12.

“The task force will say how this was a great day in the war on corruption,” said Barbara van Gelder, Safavian’s attorney, referring to the Justice Department task force investigating the Abramoff scandal. “I find they made a mountain out of a molehill and now they’re going to plant the flag on top of the molehill.”

This was the first trial to emerge from the scandal surrounding Abramoff, who is a former business partner of Safavian’s. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to federal crimes in Washington and in Miami.

A key witness in the case was Neil Volz, a convicted partner of Abramoff’s and ex-chief of staff to Mr. Ney. Prosecutors introduced hundreds of e-mails exchanged among Safavian, Abramoff, Volz and others in 2002.

The Justice Department made a case that Safavian provided Abramoff with advice and some inside information about two government properties.

Prosecutors said Abramoff wanted to buy or lease part of the GSA’s White Oak property in the Maryland suburbs for use by a Jewish school he had established. They also said he wanted to give an Indian tribe client a leg up on obtaining the contract to redevelop the Old Post Office in downtown Washington as a luxury hotel, near two restaurants Abramoff owned.

Volz testified that the Abramoff team referred to Safavian as one of their “champions” inside government, who could give them insider information they couldn’t get elsewhere.

Safavian took the stand for two days in his own defense. He acknowledged some misjudgments and forwarding Abramoff some insider information.

He maintained he simply gave generally available information to an old friend who was inquiring about government property that the GSA had not decided what to do with yet.

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