WASHINGTON — A Republican lobbyist at the center of a Capitol Hill bribery probe could cooperate with prosecutors if ongoing plea bargaining negotiations proceed smoothly in coming days, says a person involved in the investigation.
Jack Abramoff could end up pleading guilty under an arrangement that would settle a criminal case against him in Florida as well as potential charges in Washington, said the person close to the probe.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussions between prosecutors and Abramoff’s lawyers.
Asked how many members of Congress Abramoff could implicate, the person said only that “cooperation is cooperation; it’s full cooperation.”
An agreement could be reached quickly, as early as “the beginning of next week,” though the person cautioned that unspecified issues remain to be worked out.
The New York Times first reported on the talks Tuesday night in a story its Web site.
Abramoff’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, declined to comment, as did Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrakasse.
Talks have been going on “a long time, months,” but only in the past week or so have they come “close to any kind of fruition,” the person said.
Gifts for favors
A former aide to ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has already pleaded guilty in the probe.
Court papers in the plea by former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon say Scanlon and Abramoff “provided a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts.”
The court papers referred repeatedly to one of the officials as Representative No. 1, acknowledged by his lawyer to be Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. Both Ney and his lawyer deny wrongdoing.
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Recently, members of Congress who accepted campaign donations from Abramoff’s clients have begun returning the money as the investigation ratchets up in intensity.
Among those returning the most money is Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., for an estimated $150,000.
The items included travel, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment, campaign donations, election support for candidates and employment for officials and their relatives.
The official acts included agreements to support and pass legislation, agreements to place statements in the Congressional Record, agreements to contact officials at executive branch agencies to influence agency decisions, meeting with clients of Abramoff and Scanlon and awarding contracts.
Indian casino scheme
Abramoff has not been charged in the corruption investigation.
Abramoff and Scanlon collected over $80 million from Indian tribes to lobby Congress on casino gambling and other issues.
In the Florida case, Abramoff is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 9. He and a former business partner were indicted last summer on charges of conspiracy and fraud. They allegedly concocted a fake $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they were putting a significant portion of their own money in the 2000 purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.
The ex-business partner, Adam Kidan, pleaded guilty last week and agreed to testify against Abramoff, putting pressure on the Washington lobbyist to reach a settlement to reduce any potential prison term.
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