Former lobbyist Trevor Blackann today in court recalled the shame he felt as he sat in his dining room with FBI agents one Saturday morning three years ago.
Blackann, a former legislative assistant for then-Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, had concealed on tax forms thousands of dollars in illegal gifts he received from lobbyists. He said today he immediately agreed to help prosecutors.
Charged in Washington federal district court with filing a false tax return, Blackann, 37, was sentenced today to about five hours in a cell block. U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts also ordered Blackann to serve two years of probation and to perform 50 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty in November 2008.
Blackann, with friends and family in court, addressed Roberts briefly, his voice caught up in the emotion of the moment. He paused frequently. Blackann said he yearned to turn back the hands of time, to do it all over. He apologized several times for concealing the all-expenses-paid trip to New York City in October 2003, a gift from lobbyist Todd Boulanger.
“Your honor,” Blackann said, “I’m ashamed of my behavior.”
Blackann, who works in Colorado for a farmer-owned cooperative now, said his acceptance of gifts from Boulanger, who worked with Jack Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig, was “shortsighted and stupid.” Boulanger pleaded guilty in 2009 in Washington federal district court, admitting that he and others showered public officials with gifts to advance client interests.
Blackann’s lawyer, Carol Elder Bruce, a white-collar defense partner at K&L Gates, told Roberts that Blackann “knows he brought this on himself.”
“He knew he crossed a line,” Bruce said in court. Blackann, she said, kept the tags on a World Series jersey he received. He tried to forget about the trip. Bruce blamed Blackann’s “clouded judgment” for his breaking the law. She also said Boulanger abused his longtime friendship with Blackann.
Bruce touted Blackann’s cooperation with the government, saying he laid a foundation that enabled prosecutors to pursue others who participated in the New York trip. Blackann testified at the trial of Fraser Verrusio, a former House of Representatives staffer who was sentenced in August to several hours in jail.
DOJ Public Integrity Section trial attorney Edward Sullivan, who was on the team that prosecuted the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens on corruption charges, described Blackann’s cooperation as “prodigious” and “indispensable.”
Sullivan said Blackann’s prompt assistance had a domino effect, aiding the government’s cases against defendants who included former lobbyist James Hirni, in addition to Boulanger and Verrusio.
“It is fair to say the government could not have made those cases without the cooperation of Mr. Blackann,” Sullivan told Roberts. Blackann, Sullivan described, “put the puzzle together for the government,” naming names based on personal and professional relationships and filling in the blanks about the New York trip.
The Justice Department recommended a sentence of two years of probation for Blackann. He faces a possible prison term, under sentencing guidelines, of up to six months.
The Blackann prosecution was notable for Sullivan himself, marking his return to the Public Integrity unit after a lengthy DOJ internal ethics investigation of the prosecutors on the Stevens case.
Sullivan was among several lawyers who moved from Public Integrity during the investigation. Sullivan returned to the section a couple of months ago. NPR first reported the news today.
His attorney, Brian Heberlig, a Steptoe & Johnson partner, said in a statement that DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility “completely exonerated” Sullivan.
“He should not have been included in the investigation of the Stevens matter in the first place, as he was not on the trial team, had no decision-making authority, and exercised sound judgment in his supporting role,” Heberlig said. “Now that he has been vindicated, Mr. Sullivan has put this matter behind him and is rightfully back prosecuting cases for the Department's Public Integrity Section.”
Sullivan entered his appearance in the Blackann case in late September.