Abramoff wants deal, sources say

December 21, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who may be facing an array of fraud and corruption charges, has been talking with prosecutors about a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against former political and business associates, people with detailed knowledge of the case have said.

Abramoff is believed to have extensive knowledge of what prosecutors suspect is a wider pattern of corruption among lawmakers and congressional staffs. One participant in the case who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, described him as a "unique resource."

Other people involved in the case or who have been officially briefed on it said the talks have reached a tense phase, with each side mindful of the date of Jan. 9, when Abramoff is scheduled to stand trial in Miami in a separate prosecution.

What began as a limited inquiry into $82 million of Indian casino lobbying work by Abramoff and his closest partner, Michael Scanlon, has broadened into a far-reaching corruption investigation of mainly Republican lawmakers and aides suspected of accepting favors in exchange for legislative work.

Prominent party officials, including the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay of Texas, are under scrutiny involving trips and other gifts from Abramoff and his clients. The case has shaken the Republican establishment, with the threat of testimony from Abramoff, once a ubiquitous and well-connected Republican star, sowing anxiety throughout the party ranks.

At issue is the complicated structure of the case against Abramoff. In August, he was indicted by federal prosecutors in Miami on charges of fraud stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats in 2000. He pleaded not guilty in that case, and his lawyers say they are preparing him to stand trial. Abramoff has also been under investigation here in connection with his lobbying. No charges have been brought against him in that inquiry.

The existence of what amounts to two separate but overlapping investigations partly explains why the plea negotiations for Abramoff have been so protracted and tough, said people with inside knowledge of the case.

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