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Abramoff Sentenced to Four More Years

Updated: 5:18 p.m.

Jack Abramoff, who was at the center of the capital’s biggest lobbying scandal in decades, was sentenced Thursday to 48 months in federal prison for charges relating to defrauding American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials.

The sentence, handed down by Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is in addition to the 22 months Abramoff has already served.

With his wife and children sitting in the courtroom’s front row, Abramoff, wearing a brown T-shirt and sweat pants and fighting back tears, told Judge Huvelle: “I come before you today as a broken man. … I’ve fallen into an abyss, your Honor. I don’t quite know how to get out.”

He said he recognized that his name has become “the synonym for ‘perfidy.’”

He later added: “I hope that this horrible nightmare ends at some point.”

Government prosecutors had asked that Abramoff, 49, serve only 39 more months; Huvelle increased that to a total of four more years.

“The true victims here are the public,” Huvelle said. “You have impacted severely the public’s confidence in the integrity of the government.”

Huvelle said under federal sentencing guidelines, Abramoff could have been sentenced to as much as 151 additional months in prison. But she and the government agreed that Abramoff’s cooperation in a dozen other corruption cases that sprung from his actions merited a significant reduction in his penalty.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January 2006 to one count each of tax evasion, wire fraud and conspiracy to violate federal statutes involving bribery, honest services fraud and post-Congressional employment.

[IMGCAP(1)]In November 2006, Abramoff began serving a 70-month sentence for his guilty plea in a separate fraud case in Florida, but the government in late August asked the judge in that case to reduce his sentence to 45 months, which would run concurrently with the sentence he received from Huvelle.

The Florida court has set a Sept. 10 hearing on the government’s request.

Abramoff had been one of Washington’s highest-paid lobbyists, taking in millions of dollars from several American Indian tribes and other clients, sometimes at fees upwards of $100,000 a month.

His ostentatious lifestyle and lavish gifts he gave to Members of Congress and staff became a symbol of the excesses of the Washington lobby culture in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Abramoff’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, argued in court Thursday that his client was “a modern-day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” capable of great generosity and deep religious faith but simultaneous guilty of corrupt activity.

While he gave away much of his money, he came to realize, that “charitable ends do not justify illegal means,” Lowell said.

Lowell also said that while Abramoff could not take credit for it, “there can be no doubt that [Abramoff] was the catalyst” to the sweeping ethics reform laws that took effect last year.

Lowell asked that Abramoff serve a total of 43 months for all of his crimes, including the 22 months he has already served in a federal penitentiary in western Maryland.

In preparation for sentencing, Lowell presented dozens of personal letters from friends and professional associates attesting to Abramoff’s generosity, faith and strength of character.

Lowell said Abramoff had been caricatured as a demon, when in fact many of his activities — such as providing gifts and meals to public officials — “took a practice that was tolerated as falling within the law and stretched it out of bounds so that it became clearly illegal.”

Despite the reams of negative press, said Lowell in his pre-sentencing brief to the court, Abramoff’s transgressions are not on par with recent allegations “that public officials were given cash from those seeking to improperly influence them, public officials hiding that cash in freezers, public officials accepting a government contractor renovating their houses,” a reference to Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska), both of whom are under federal indictments.

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