Abramoff ready to rat on members of Congress


    Federal prosecutors and lawyers for lobbyist Jack Abramoff are
    putting the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced
    early next week, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

    The
    plea agreement would secure the Republican lobbyist’s testimony against
    several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients.

    Abramoff
    and a former partner were indicted in Miami in August on charges of
    conspiracy and fraud for allegedly lying about their assets to help
    secure financing to purchase a fleet of gambling boats.

    Pressure
    has been intensifying on Abramoff to strike a deal with prosecutors
    since former partner Adam Kidan pleaded guilty earlier this month to
    fraud and conspiracy in connection with the 2000 SunCruz boat deal.

    Abramoff’s
    cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department
    investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors
    build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers of both parties and
    their staff members.

    The people, who requested anonymity because
    of the sensitive nature of the talks, said the lawyers spoke by phone
    with U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck, giving him an update on the plea
    negotiations.

    Huck scheduled another status conference for
    Tuesday afternoon, but the deal could be completed before then, the
    people said. Abramoff could sign the plea agreement and exchange it
    with prosecutors via fax over the weekend, they said.

    Details of
    where Abramoff will enter his plea are still being worked out.
    Abramoff’s lawyers have indicated that they want the plea to be made in
    U.S. District Court in Washington, one person said.

    If that
    happens, Abramoff would plead guilty to charges contained in a criminal
    information _ a filing made by a federal prosecutor with a defendant’s
    permission that bypasses action by a grand jury.

    The lawyers could then apprise Huck about the plea and its effect on the case in Miami.

    Abramoff
    and Kidan were charged with concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer
    to make it appear they were putting their own money into the SunCruz
    deal. Two lenders agreed to provide $60 million in financing for the
    purchase based on that false wire transfer, according to prosecutors.

    For
    months, prosecutors in Washington have focused on whether Abramoff
    defrauded his Indian tribal clients of millions of dollars and used
    improper influence on members of Congress.

    In a five-year span
    ending in early 2004, tribes represented by the lobbyist contributed
    millions of dollars in casino income to congressional campaigns, often
    routing the money through political action committees for conservative
    lawmakers who opposed gambling.

    Abramoff also provided trips,
    sports skybox fundraisers, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment and
    jobs for lawmakers’ relatives and aides.

    Kidan and Abramoff
    bought SunCruz from Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis, who was slain in 2001 in
    a gangland-style hit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Investigators say Boulis
    and Kidan were fighting for control of SunCruz; Kidan has denied any
    involvement in Boulis’ death.

    Three men were arrested in September on murder charges in Boulis’ killing and are awaiting trial.

    Michael Scanlon, another former Abramoff associate, pleaded guilty in November in a separate case in Washington.

    Scanlon
    said he helped Abramoff and Kidan buy SunCruz by persuading Rep. Bob
    Ney, R-Ohio, to insert comments into the Congressional Record that were
    “calculated to pressure the then-owner to sell on terms favorable” to
    Abramoff and Kidan.

    © 2005 The Associated Press