Lobbyist Abramoff Sentenced to Nearly Six Years
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
In Miami today, a federal judge sentenced disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff to nearly six years in prison for his part in a fraudulent effort to buy a fleet of gambling ships. Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, pleaded guilty to charges in the Florida case earlier this year. Sentencing has been delayed in part so both men can cooperate with the government in other cases.
NPR's John Ydstie has been following the case. He joins us now from Miami.
John, now just to be clear, these charges are separate from the trouble Jack Abramoff and a lot of his associates face up here in Washington.
JOHN YDSTIE: Right. The judges in the political corruption case have decided not to sentence Jack Abramoff, even though he's plead guilty there, because they want to maximize his cooperation in the efforts to uncover wrongdoing among congressman and congressional staff.
The Judge here wanted to get sentencing out of the way, and he told both sides, the prosecution and the defense, that they could come back and ask for a reduced sentence based on Mr. Abramoff's cooperation later.
NORRIS: Now, as to his other legal troubles, related to members of Congress, he entertained or allegedly raised money for, where do those charges stand?
YDSTIE: There's been only one member of Congress actually identified in the plea agreement that Mr. Abramoff has made, that is Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio. No other members of the Congress have been named, but it's understood that a number are being investigated, including Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, Tom DeLay and his activities with Mr. Abramoff. But it's been awhile since we've heard from the investigators at the Washington end.
NORRIS: So with the sentence that Abramoff received today, does this apply enough pressure on him to perhaps increase his level of cooperation in his Washington matters?
YDSTIE: Well, I think it's anybody's guess. As I said, the judge in Washington has left the sentencing 'til later in order to try to induce cooperation. The judge in this case felt like he wanted to get this moving and wanted to make a sentence and said they could come back and reduce this sentence later. So I think it's, you know, two separate judges with two different opinions of what might put pressure on Mr. Abramoff.
NORRIS: Now, John, what was the scene at the courthouse today? I know that they wouldn't let microphones in the courtroom, so could you tell us what you saw and heard?
YDSTIE: Well, I happened to run into Jack Abramoff and his wife Pam in the lobby as they were coming in a couple hours before the hearing, and they were exchanging emotional, remorseful looks. He had his beige ball cap on, she took it off and straightened his hair. In the elevator on the way up, he told me that this was not a day that any of us wished for.
Inside the courtroom things were very efficient. The prosecutors and defense had agreed to recommend a six-year sentence, down from the maximum of over seven years. No fine, since Abramoff and Kidan had agreed already to pay a $21.7 million dollar restitution.
The judge concurred in all this, and actually suggested the restitution could begin if the two had jobs in prison. Fifty percent of their wages would go to this restitution to victims. At that rate, it would take a while to pay if off, I'm afraid.
NORRIS: Did Mr. Abramoff have anything to say in the courtroom?
YDSTIE: Yes, he did. He stood before the judge very stoically. He said, "As you can imagine, this day is incredibly painful for my family, my friends, and myself." He said, "I can only hope the Almighty and all those I have wronged will forgive my trespasses." And he said, "In the past two years I have started the process of becoming a new man."
The judge responded to Abramoff's mention of his family. He said, "I see this all the time, the burden falls on the family." Abramoff has five children, ages 12 to 18 years.
NORRIS: Now, will either of these defendants go immediately to jail?
YDSTIE: No. Both Mr. Kidan and Mr. Abramoff have a surrender date that is 90- days from now, again, because prosecutors and defense asked for time for Mr. Abramoff to cooperate in other investigations.
And there's, it's not only the Washington investigation. There is a case, a murder case that has come out of this purchase of the SunCruz Casino line. The man that Abramoff and Kidan bought these gambling ships from was murdered shortly after that sale. An associate of Adam Kidan's has been accused of that murder, someone named Anthony Big Tony Moscatiello, and they're hoping that both Abramoff and Kidan will cooperate in that investigation as well.
NORRIS: So they essentially have to turn themselves in, in 90-days.
YDSTIE: In 90 days, although the judge said that if the government and the defense want to come back and try to extend that, they can do that.
NORRIS: Thank you, John.
YDSTIE: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: NPR's John Ydstie in Miami, outside the Federal Courthouse.
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