WASHINGTON — Three members of Congress have been linked to efforts by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a former General Services Administration official to secure leases of government property for Abramoff’s clients, according to court filings by federal prosecutors on Friday.
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The filings in U.S. District Court do not allege any wrongdoing by the elected officials but list them in documents portraying David Safavian, a former GSA chief of staff, as an active adviser to Abramoff, giving the lobbyist tips on how to use members of Congress to navigate the agency’s bureaucracy.
Abramoff is cooperating with federal investigators in a wide-ranging probe of corruption on Capitol Hill that threatens several powerful members of Congress and their staff members. Last month, he pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud.
Safavian is charged with lying to a GSA ethics officer when he said Abramoff was not seeking business with the agency at the time the lobbyist paid for Safavian and several others to go on a golf outing to Scotland in August 2002.
At the time of the trip, prosecutors said, Abramoff was trying to get GSA approval for leases of the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington for an Indian tribe to develop and for federal property in Silver Spring, Md., for use by a Jewish school.
Two of the elected officials referred to in Friday’s filings have been identified in published reports as Reps. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Don Young, R-Alaska. According to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, the two representatives wrote to the GSA in September 2002, urging the agency to give preferential treatment to groups such as Indian tribes when evaluating development proposals for the Old Post Office.
LaTourette maintains he did nothing improper by advocating special opportunities for certain small businesses in areas known as HUBzones, or Historically Underutilized Business zones. His spokeswoman, Deborah Setliff, said that the letter was reviewed by Young’s chief of staff and counsel and that it did not advocate any particular business over another.
A spokesman for Young did not return telephone calls.
Friday’s filings by prosecutors refer to a third member of Congress, Rep. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Her name appears in e-mails that suggest she was trying to help Abramoff secure a GSA lease for land in Silver Spring for a religious school.
Capito claims to know nothing about the effort. “The action taken by her former chief of staff was done without her knowledge, approval or consent,” said her spokesman, Joel Brubaker. “She was not aware of any contact with GSA of any type on this matter.”
Mark Johnson, Capito’s former chief of staff, said he did not bring the issue to Capito’s attention. He said he was contacted by Neil Volz, a colleague of Abramoff’s and a former chief of staff for Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.
Johnson said Volz asked him to check on the status of a project involving the GSA. Johnson said he believes he called a friend at the GSA but doesn’t recall the outcome.
Prosecutors included the e-mails in documents filed in response to a request by Safavian’s lawyers to dismiss the indictment against him. Safavian’s lawyers want a federal judge to throw out the charges on grounds there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
Series of contacts
In their filing, prosecutors laid out a series of contacts between Abramoff and Safavian that show the former GSA official gave inside information and advice to the lobbyist.
Safavian used his personal e-mail during business hours to communicate with Abramoff several times, according to prosecutors. He also edited the draft of a letter that was probably sent under LaTourette and Young’s names.
And Safavian advised Abramoff to tell his wife to use her maiden name during a meeting with GSA officials so she wouldn’t draw attention to her politically connected husband’s involvement in the project.
In a July 23, 2002, e-mail to a GSA official, Safavian discussed getting information about the Silver Spring site to Capito’s office. But Volz discovered a complication the next day.
Volz told Abramoff that someone at the GSA wanted the congresswoman to put her request in writing. “We can’t ask the most vulnerable Republican incumbent member of Congress in the House to put something in writing that can be made public,” Volz wrote. “The congresswoman’s office has already put the request in and you would think that would be enough!!!”
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