- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

Gone were the fedora, dark trench coat and swagger that had become the signature of a Washington power broker. In their place were a drab prison uniform and a self-described “broken man” fighting back tears.

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff came to federal court Thursday to plead for mercy.

“I am not the same man who happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political corruption and business corruption,” Abramoff told Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle during a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “I’ve fallen into an abyss, your honor, I don’t know quite how to get out.”

Abramoff, 49, received some leniency, but not as much as he, his lawyers and even prosecutors had hoped.

Judge Huvelle sentenced Abramoff to four years in prison for defrauding clients and partners and corrupting public officials with expensive dinners, sporting tickets and campaign contributions.

Abramoff’s excesses came to define Washington corruption and played no small part in Democrats winning control of Congress in 2006 for the first time in more than a decade.

Judge Huvelle refused to give him credit for the two years he has already served in prison for an unrelated Florida case, which means he will not likely be released from prison until about 2012.

“This gives you a significant amount of credit for your cooperation,” she said. “I understand the sentence I have given is somewhat more than the government requested, but not excessively more.”

Federal sentencing guidelines called for Abramoff to receive more than a decade in prison, but prosecutors and defense attorneys said his cooperation with investigators deserved serious consideration.

Defense attorney Abbe D. Lowell said Abramoff’s cooperation has spanned thousands of hours and led to guilty pleas from 12 politicians and powerbrokers, including former Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican. Mr. Lowell predicted his client’s help will play a large role in future prosecutions and convictions.

Lawyers for both sides had hoped the judge would impose a somewhat complex sentencing structure that would keep Abramoff in prison for only a few more years. Prosecutors wanted him to stay in prison for about three more years; Abramoff wanted a sentence that could have allowed for his release as early as next year.

But those requests hinged on the judge imposing a sentence that ran with the Florida case. Abramoff pleaded guilty in 2006 to the fraudulent purchase of a gambling boat in Miami. Prosecutors will ask a judge next week to reduce that sentence because of Abramoff’s cooperation. Either way, that won’t change his release date.

Judge Huvelle said she had to impose a sentence that reflected a respect for the law and serve as a deterrent. She noted Abramoff helped shake the public’s faith in government with crimes that spanned many years.

“This was not an aberration,” she said. “It was a consistent course of corrupt conduct.”

But she said she didn’t doubt the sincerity of Abramoff’s penitence and acknowledged the difficulty in fashioning the appropriate sentence, given the paradox of his life.

At the same time he was bringing public officials on lavish golf trips to Scotland and defrauding Indian tribes, Abramoff was also generously giving to charities and people in need, often anonymously. His lawyer said Abramoff gave away as much as half his considerable earnings every year.

Even his victims appeared conflicted.

Bernie Sprague, a member of the 3,000-plus Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, told the court that Abramoff’s crimes have “grave repercussions” for his tribe.

He said the tribe’s association with Abramoff has left it shunned from involvement in the legislative and political processes and resulted in the return of political donations. “Because we are, or were, an Abramoff tribe,” he said.

But fellow tribe member Delores Jackson had a completely different take. She said Abramoff helped the tribe receive federal aid for roads, schools and a behavorial health center.

“As natives, we knew Mr. Abramoff to be fighting for us,” she said. “We remain today appreciative of his efforts; we remain today his friends.”

Abramoff’s lawyer suggested the myth of the man has taken over his actual crimes.

But Abramoff himself didn’t back away from his misdeeds.

“I have had many of hundreds of sleepless nights,” he said. “This recognition has been weighing heavily on me.”

Abramoff said he became arrogant and self-righteous over the years, but now wants to spend the rest of his days doing what he can to make things right. Especially, he said, healing his family, whose very name has become the butt of jokes. Abramoff and his wife, Pam, have five children, who are between the ages of 15 and 20.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry I’ve put everyone through all this.”

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