WASHINGTON (AP) – The Justice Department on Wednesday recommended a dramatic reduction in the prison sentence of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who became the key witness against lawmakers and congressional aides he spent years corrupting.
Prosecutors asked federal judges in Washington and Florida to shave years of prison time off his sentence, citing his work in an FBI investigation that sent numerous powerful people to prison and contributed to the Republican Party’s loss of Congress.
“It is appropriate given Abramoff’s extraordinary cooperation to date, cooperation which can be wholly or partially credited for the convictions of a member of Congress, five high-level legislative branch officials, one high-level executive branch official and two other mid- to low-level public officials,” Justice Department prosecutors said in documents filed in Washington’s federal court.
In 2006, Abramoff began serving nearly six years in prison for a fraudulent Florida casino deal. On top of that, he faces about 11 years in prison when he is sentenced next week for corrupting Capitol Hill lawmakers with expensive meals, golf junkets, luxury sports tickets and other gifts.
The Justice Department is asking for a much more lenient sentence. Prosecutors asked that the Florida sentence be reduced to less than four years. They asked a federal judge in Washington to sentence Abramoff to five years and four months, with credit for the two years he has served in the Florida case.
That means Abramoff could be eligible for release sometime in 2011.
Defense attorney Abbe Lowell asked for even less time, saying Abramoff has reviewed more than 500,000 documents and spent more than 3,000 hours working with the Justice Department over the past three years.
Abramoff’s cooperation helped send former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles to prison. In court documents, Lowell hinted that others may soon follow, saying Abramoff “assisted with the government’s investigation of scores of other persons who have not yet been charged.”
Abramoff’s sentencing Sept. 4 will be his first court appearance in years. Because nearly everyone in the corruption case has so far pleaded guilty rather than going to trial, Abramoff has not had to take the witness stand and tell his story.
He will get the chance to speak next week before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. She has shown leniency in the case when defendants show genuine remorse, but she has shown little patience for those who arrive in court with excuses. She chastised Griles for ducking responsibility and issued a 10-month prison sentence that was twice what had been proposed.
David Safavian, the former chief of staff for the General Services Administration, is the only person to go to trial in the case. He was convicted of lying about his relationship with Abramoff, but an appeals court threw out some of the charges and ordered a new trial on others.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., are among lawmakers who have been investigated but not charged in the case.