A federal judge on Wednesday doubled the prison sentence of the Interior Department's former number two official, sentencing him to 10 months in prison for lying to Senate investigators about the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and refusing to accept responsibility in court.
J. Steven Griles was the Interior Department's deputy secretary and is the highest administration official sentenced in the probe. Griles had entered a plea agreement with prosecutors in which he agreed to plead guilty to obstructing a congressional investigation in exchange for a 5-month prison sentence.
But at the sentencing hearing, Griles' attorneys appeared to make excuses for their client's false statements to Senate investigators, evoking the judge's wrath and leading her to double his prison time.
"Even now you continue to minimize and try to excuse your conduct," said U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle
Griles admitted to lying to Senate investigators about his relationship with Abramoff, the central figure in a corruption investigation that has led to numerous convictions.
But in court, Huvelle became irritated when Griles and his attorneys would not answer questions about what lies Griles had told.
Attorney Barry M. Hartman said the Justice Department was trying to link Griles to "the stench of Jack Abramoff" and that Griles testimony would have been accurate if lawmakers had provided Griles with documents showing the extent of his relationship with Abramoff.
"Do you really believe that?" Huvelle shot back. "You think it's the Senate's fault?"
Huvelle also ordered Griles to pay a fine of $30,000, and serve a term of three years of supervised release. She has not set a date for Griles to report to prison.
Abramoff is currently serving a 70-month prison sentence for his guilty plea on conspiracy and fraud charges brought in Miami. The former lobbyist has also pleaded guilty to corruption, fraud, conspiracy and tax charges in the District of Columbia.
The Abramoff investigation has resulted in 12 convictions, including that of former U.S. Rep. Robert W. Ney on conspiracy and false statement charges.
From NPR and The Associated Press reports