Former Bush aide convicted

June 21, 2006|By RICHARD B. SCHMITT | RICHARD B. SCHMITT,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- In the first trial arising from the scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff, a federal jury found a former Bush administration official guilty yesterday of lying and concealing his ties to the disgraced Republican lobbyist in a case that hinged on a lavish golf outing to Scotland.

The conviction of David H. Safavian, once the government's chief procurement officer, was a milestone for the Justice Department, which is continuing to pursue people with connections to Abramoff. The verdict adds momentum to that investigation and is apt to put pressure on Safavian, a former Abramoff associate, to cooperate with investigators to gain leniency.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to corrupt public officials and steal millions from Indian tribes he represented, while agreeing to cooperate in a continuing investigation of his activities.

He did not testify at Safavian's trial, but the government presented dozens of his e-mails to show how he used his friendship with Safavian to learn more about government properties for sale.

Safavian was found guilty of three counts of lying or making false statements and one count of obstructing justice. Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman set sentencing for Oct. 12.

"The message of this verdict is clear. In answering questions posed by Congress and by federal agencies, public officials have the same obligation as does the public for which they serve: to tell the truth. No one is above the law," Alice Fisher, chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, said in a statement.

A Justice Department task force is investigating whether Abramoff illegally traded campaign contributions and other favors to aid his lobbying clients. Federal agents are focusing on a number of members of Congress, including Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, whose former chief of staff was the key government witness against Safavian.

Four other former Abramoff associates have pleaded guilty to crimes.

The case against Safavian rested on allegations of deceit rather than on whether he took or gave bribes. His lawyer said Safavian was a minor participant who had tried to play by the rules but was swept up in a broader government crackdown on corruption.

Legal experts said the verdict will strengthen the government's hand in dealing with others under investigation and will show that the government is serious even about lesser figures caught up in the scandal.

Democrats, eager to make corruption in Washington an issue in the November elections, said the conviction is significant.

The verdict "is another sign that the grip of the Republican culture of corruption and abuses of power in Washington is loosening, but it's just the tip of the iceberg," said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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