Interior Official Sentenced in Abramoff Scandal
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A federal judge has handed down a 10-month prison term to the highest-ranking Bush administration official implicated so far in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. His name is Steven Griles. He was second-in-command at the Interior Department during President Bush's first term. He was sentenced for lying about favors that he did for Abramoff, as NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: In the courtroom, where microphones are banned, Griles choked up. Softly, in his south side Virginia drawl, he said this guilty plea has brought me great shame and embarrassment. I've lost my business, my income, and most important, my reputation.
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle was having a little of it. Quote: "I find it even now you continue to minimize and try to excuse your conduct," unquote. She told Griles he should be pleased with the plea; that's because his plea bargain was based on just one felony account. After he pleaded in March, more damning details come out about his work with Abramoff. So yesterday Huvelle overruled the plea deal and doubled the prison time from five months to 10. Griles' legal problems began in 2005 during a Senate investigation of Jack Abramoff.
Mr. STEVEN GRILES (U.S. Department of Interior): There was no special relationship for Mr. Abramoff in my office. It never did exist.
OVERBY: Griles testified at a public hearing. Senators asked him about Abramoff's claims that Griles did favors for him at the interior department.
Mr. GRILES: That is outrageous and it is not true.
OVERBY: He was half right. In fact, he and his then girlfriend Italia Federici have both admitted in court since then that they did team up with Abramoff in 2001. Federici benefited when Abramoff funneled a half million dollars to her group, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. Griles benefited as Abramoff angled to get him a lucrative job at Abramoff's law firm. Before that could happen, though, Abramoff's lobbying empire collapsed in scandal. But Abramoff had already benefited, as Griles pushed decisions at Interior to help his clients. And Griles also delivered the occasional personal favor.
(Soundbite of movie, "National Treasure")
Mr. NICHOLAS CAGE (Actor): (As Benjamin Franklin Gates) The Declaration of Independence.
Ms. DIANE KRUGER (Actress): (As Abigail Chase) You think there is a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
Mr. CAGE: (As Benjamin Franklin Gates) The map is invisible.
OVERBY: That exchange comes from Nicholas Cage's movie "National Treasure," shot partly on location on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. At the time Cage's crew trucks were all too visible, blocking the valet parking at a restaurant owned by Jack Abramoff. Abramoff called Griles on his cell phone, and Griles sent an official from the National Park Service to have the vehicles moved.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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