Two cases, each with separate charges. Two plea deals, filed in federal courthouses more than a thousand miles apart. And, now, there are two prison sentences for Jack Abramoff, the former Washington lobbyist convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges in a widespread corruption case that ended the careers of a group of public officials.
The Abramoff sentencing yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was anything but routine considering the Abramoff name is household now. But the sentencing was further complicated by the fact Abramoff is already serving a six-year prison term stemming from a fraud conviction in Florida.
Abramoff’s sentencing lasted more than two hours, and beyond victim impact statements, a good portion of that time was dedicated to a defense attorney, a government prosecutor, and a federal judge hashing out the rationale and the implications of having two distinct prison sentences in different jurisdictions. The four-year term handed down in D.C. federal court runs at the same time as the Florida sentence. In all, Abramoff is expected to serve about six years. Abramoff is locked up at the prison in Cumberland.
There was never any doubt that his sentence in D.C. district court—on charges that included mail fraud and tax evasion—would run consecutive to the term brokered in the Southern District of Florida, Abramoff’s lead attorney, Abbe Lowell of McDermott Will & Emery, said in court. Justice Department lawyer Mary Butler said the government wanted simultaneous sentencing hearings for both cases. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle questioned why the Justice Department could not combine the cases. There was no clear answer. It didn't help that Abramoff was sentenced in Florida before Justice lawyers in the District wanted.
Next week, Abramoff has a telephonic hearing in the Southern District where his attorneys will argue for a reduction in sentence based on the substantial assistance Abramoff has given federal agents. The government acknowledges Abramoff has been a big help. He named names. Fancy people went to jail. There’s even an ongoing investigation right now. The record of the help Abramoff has given in the ongoing case is under seal. Stay tuned.
The initial prison sentence in Florida was ordered before substantial assistance really was a factor, said Butler, the government prosecutor. A Justice attorney in Florida moved to reduce Abramoff’s sentence from 70 months to 45. Abramoff has already put in about two years. That means his Florida sentence would end in a couple more years. But the four-year term Judge Huvelle ordered yesterday does not include the two years Abramoff has already served behind bars. So that sentence could expire after the Florida sentence wraps up.
While we are on the numbers game, Lowell offered these figures in court to show the extent to which Abramoff really, really has sought to give the government whatever it wants: 3,000 hours of meetings with government officials; sessions with 100 government officials; and 500,000 documents reviewed.
“This effort far exceeds the cooperation given by any sort of typical co operator,” Lowell and Miami attorney Neal Sonnett wrote in a brief last month. “Indeed, it must place Mr. Abramoff near the top of all government cooperators.”
Speaking of top-level figures, Abramoff in an email to Huvelle dismissed press coverage of the corruption case, calling it overblown. “I am not a bad man (although to read all the news articles you would think I was Osama Bin Laden), but I did many bad things,” Abramoff wrote in the email from prison. Abramoff’s letter was one of more than 350 Judge Huvelle received. The inundation of letters was more than Huvelle has seen in any other case.
In court yesterday, a tearful Abramoff, dressed in a brown T-shirt and khaki pants, apologized for his actions, saying he is a “broken man” and living a “horrible" nightmare. “I’m not the same person who happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political corruption and business corruption,” Abramoff said in court, where his wife and five kids were sitting in the front row.