Jack Abramoff, the onetime flamboyant lobbyist who amassed a fortune by showering gifts on congressional and executive branch officials while bilking Indian tribes of millions of dollars, was sentenced on Thursday to four years in prison.
Judge Ellen S. Huvelle of federal district court here ordered that Abramoff serve the time for corruption and tax offenses uncovered by an influence-peddling investigation that touched Republican leaders in Congress and midlevel officials in the Bush administration, among others. Huvelle said that Abramoff had engaged in “a consistent course of corrupt conduct.”
Abramoff, who came to symbolize an out-of-control, even brazen style of courting government officials, told Huvelle he had since realized how far he had stepped over the bounds of what was permissible. Wearing a worn brown T-shirt, pants with an elastic waistband and a Jewish skullcap, he apologized profusely and in a quavering voice said he was begging for mercy. “I have fallen into an abyss,” he said. “My name is the butt of a joke.”
The sentencing process was unusual and complicated by many factors. Prosecutors had asked Huvelle to sentence Abramoff to a term less than the approximately 11 years allowed by federal sentencing guidelines to reflect his extensive cooperation with investigators.
Although the Justice Department typically exhorts judges to hand down stiff sentences, a prosecutor, Mary K. Butler, argued vigorously for a reduced jail term to encourage other criminals to cooperate in exchange for a lenient sentence.
Abramoff, Butler said, had contributed substantially to the conviction of about 10 officials, including a member of Congress, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. “We need to send a message to our other cooperators,” Butler said.
Huvelle said she had recognized Abramoff’s cooperation by sharply reducing his sentence. But she noted the corrosive effect of his behavior on public trust in government and, in the end, sentenced him to nine months longer than the 39-month sentence the government had sought. Abramoff, who is described by his lawyers as penniless, still owes about $15 million in restitution to various Indian tribes.
Abramoff has served about two years of a separate sentence in an unrelated fraud case in Florida involving cruise ships. In all, Abramoff will serve about six years in prison on both convictions.