- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

The former top procurement official in President George W. Bush’s administration was sentenced Friday to a year in prison for lying about his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman told David Safavian that he must be punished for obstructing justice and making false statements to investigators who were looking into the Abramoff scandal.

Safavian and his wife, Jennifer, each pleaded tearfully to the judge not to send the former Bush White House official to prison.

Safavian, 48, said he never intended to break the law, while acknowledging that “I am the poster child” for staying in “the gray areas of ethics.”

“I know I have made stupid decisions,” he said.

Judge Friedman postponed Safavian’s reporting date for his prison sentence until after his pregnant wife delivers their new baby, due next March. Safavian also could choose to appeal.

Safavian provided Abramoff with information on two pieces of government-controlled property the lobbyist wanted, and accepted a golfing junket to Scotland largely paid for by Abramoff.

On Thursday at the same federal courthouse where Safavian was sentenced, prosecutors were dealt a setback in another Abramoff-related case. The trial of ex-lobbyist Kevin Ring ended in a mistrial. Seventeen people have pleaded guilty to crimes in the long-running Abramoff investigation, including former Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who served a 17-month prison term. Safavian and Mr. Ring chose to go to court to fight the charges against them rather than plead guilty in an effort to reduce their punishment.

On Friday, Judge Friedman told Safavian a prison term was necessary to send a governmentwide message about the need to adhere to the highest legal standards.

“A light bulb should have gone on” when Abramoff paid for most of a weeklong golfing junket to Scotland and England, the judge admonished Safavian.

Safavian’s sentencing follows a trial last December in which he was convicted of obstructing an investigation by the inspector general at the General Services Administration, of lying to the FBI and a GSA ethics officer and of making a false statement on his financial disclosure form.

Judge Friedman told Safavian that his conduct “was a continuum. When GSA started asking questions, you said you paid the full cost of the trip.”

“When the FBI came calling twice in 2005,” Safavian made several false statements, the judge added.

By that time, the Bush administration had promoted Safavian from his GSA post to the White House, where he was the top procurement official in the government.

Judge Friedman seemed genuinely moved by Mrs. Safavian’s emotional statements in which she said her husband “is not like Jack Abramoff,” whom she called “a despicable human being.”

Mrs. Safavian said her husband has suffered through a four-year legal battle that has stripped his family of savings and is an equivalent punishment to what Abramoff has faced.

Abramoff is serving six years in prison. He and Safavian were long-standing friends, but Abramoff “is not the person we thought we knew,” Mrs. Safavian said.

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