Jack Abramoff, the scandal-ridden lobbyist at the center of a Washington influence-peddling scandal that threatens to gut the Republican party, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on Wednesday for fraud in the purchase of a Florida casino cruise line.
Abramoff, who is cooperating in a federal investigation into whether Washington politicians gave his clients favorable treatment in exchange for campaign contributions, Super Bowl tickets and other illegal gifts, was also ordered to pay restitution of $21.7 million, together with a co-defendant.
"I am much chastened and profoundly remorseful," Abramoff told a Miami court. "I can only hope that the Almighty and those whom I have wronged will forgive me my trespasses."
U.S. District Judge Paul Huck handed Abramoff and the co-defendant, New York businessman Adam Kidan, sentences of five years and 10 months in prison. They will be on probation for three years after their release.
Abramoff pleaded guilty in a Miami federal court in January to conspiracy and wire fraud charges, acknowledging he faked documents to get a $60 million loan to buy the SunCruz fleet of gambling ships in 2000.
The documents falsely claimed Abramoff and business partner Kidan had put $23 million of their own money into the deal.
The acknowledgment of guilt was tied to a plea bargain deal that involves cooperating in a federal investigation into whether he showered golf trips, meals, sports tickets and other gifts on lawmakers — almost all Republicans — in return for actions that would help his clients.
"Jack Abramoff broke the law and now he is going to pay the price for it," Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, said in a written statement. "But complete justice will not be served until all of Abramoff’s activities and connections are exposed and all of this partners-in-crime are punished."
Abramoff has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges in Washington, and federal investigators are examining his links to a number of politicians, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. DeLay and Ney have denied any wrongdoing.
Huck postponed the start of the prison terms for at least 90 days to allow Abramoff and Kidan to continue to help prosecutors in the corruption probe.
"I have every reason to believe both of these defendants will continue to cooperate," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio said.
Abramoff left the court by a back entrance and slipped away in a black Lincoln, avoiding a horde of reporters and cameras.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Abramoff had given Republican lawmakers more than $120,000.
It accused some Republicans of refusing to hand back the money, and urged voters to take note of the corruption scandal at midterm elections in November, when the Democrats hope to wrest control of Congress from Republicans.
"With so many thousands of dollars shelled out to Republicans in Congress and so many Republicans in Congress holding fast to Abramoff’s tainted cash, American families are again reminded of the cost of the corruption that he engineered in Washington, D.C.," Bill Burton, the campaign committee’s communications director, said in a statement.
Abramoff and Kidan bought SunCruz from Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, who was shot to death in an ambush on a street in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in February 2001. Three men were charged in the killing last year.
Abramoff and Kidan have said they know nothing about Boulis’ death.
(Reported by Jim Loney and Tom Brown of Reuters)