WASHINGTON—A federal jury convicted a former Bush administration official Tuesday of lying about his relationship with a high-powered Washington lobbyist who's at the center of a broadening investigation into influence-peddling on Capitol Hill.
David Safavian, former chief of staff of the General Services Administration, the federal government's procurement agency, was found guilty of four charges of making false statements and misleading investigators who were looking into Jack Abramoff's dealings with other public officials and lobbyists.
At his sentencing in October, Safavian faces up to five years in prison on each of the four counts.
Prosecutors had accused Safavian of lying about helping Abramoff attempt to buy two GSA-managed properties in the Washington area.
Safavian also didn't reveal the extent of his relationship with Abramoff and his plans to take a golfing trip to Scotland with the lobbyist in August 2002, prosecutors said.
The jury acquitted Safavian of a fifth charge, of attempting to mislead the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which later determined that Abramoff had paid for a portion of the trip with tribal money.
Justice Department officials said Safavian's conviction showed that government officials would be held accountable for failing to cooperate with federal investigators.
"Public officials have the same obligation as does the public for which they serve: to tell the truth," Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said.
Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. He didn't testify in the Safavian case, although he's agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Four other former Abramoff associates, including a former chief of staff for Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and two former aides to former Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, have pleaded guilty in the scandal. Ney and DeLay have denied any wrongdoing.
Neil Volz, Ney's former chief of staff, pleaded guilty in May to conspiring with Abramoff. Former DeLay aides Michael Scanlon and Tony Rudy have pleaded guilty to committing fraud and violating the federal one-year lobbying ban. Volz testified on behalf of the government during Safavian's trial.
During the eight-day trial, prosecutors presented dozens of e-mails between Safavian and Abramoff discussing the GSA properties.
Abramoff contacted Safavian days after his old friend became GSA's chief of staff to talk to him about the properties, according to federal records.
Abramoff wanted to buy or lease a portion of 600 acres in Silver Spring, Md., and the Old Post Office Building in Washington. At the time, the GSA managed the properties.
Prosecutors said Safavian later gave Abramoff advice about leasing or buying the properties, provided him with internal government documents and set up a meeting with other GSA officials.
At the time, Safavian had been planning to take the golfing trip to Scotland with a group that included Abramoff and Ney.
Safavian sought an opinion from ethics officers about whether he could join the trip, telling them Abramoff was a "lawyer and a lobbyist, but one that has no business before GSA," according to the federal documents.
Ethics officers concluded that Safavian could accept a gift as long as Abramoff wasn't seeking to do business with the GSA.
Safavian sent an e-mail to Abramoff, saying: "It looks like Scotland is a go."
During the trial, defense attorneys argued that Safavian had acted appropriately by seeking advice from the ethics officers and reimbursing Abramoff $3,100 for the trip. Safavian's attorney Barbara Van Gelder didn't return repeated calls.
Prosecutors countered that the amount couldn't have covered his share of the expenses, which exceeded $130,000 for nine people.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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