WASHINGTON — A federal judge has again deferred a status hearing for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the center of a wide-ranging public corruption investigation. This marks the third time since Abramoff's January guilty plea to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials that he has avoided a Washington court appearance.
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U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle agreed to a joint motion by Justice Department lawyers and Abramoff's attorney for the delay citing the former mega-lobbyist's continuing cooperation in the probe. The motion to delay the court appearance originally scheduled for September 6th, said, "Abramoff has been cooperating with government agents and prosecutors. The government anticipates that Mr. Abramoff's cooperation will continue for the foreseeable future." Judge Huvelle has scheduled a December 8th status hearing for Abramoff.
Also avoiding a September court appearance is Michael Scanlon, a former partner of Abramoff who also served as spokesman for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Scanlon pleaded guilty in November to trying to bribe public officials.
Scanlon's attorney also cited his on-going cooperation with government investigators in the corruption probe. Scanlon is now scheduled to appear in court the same day in December as Abramoff.
Sentencing still pending
Abramoff has been sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for his role in the Suncruz Casino cruise line case along with his partner Adam Kidan. Abramoff is scheduled to surrender to authorities and begin serving that sentence on October 2nd. But, government attorneys and Abramoff lawyer Abbe Lowell say they plan to file a motion to continue Abramoff's reporting date for a period of 90 days to allow him to continue cooperating with the government. Abramoff has not been sentenced to his three-count guilty plea in the Washington influence peddling scandal.
Department of Justice investigators are getting help in the Washington probe from Abramoff himself, former congressman Tom DeLay's staffers Michael Scanlon and Tony C. Rudy and former Ney chief of staff Neil G. Volz, all of whom have pleaded guilty to various charges. Another guilty plea earlier this month by a former Interior Department official, Roger Stillwell, marked an expansion of the government's ongoing investigation in the web of influence surrounding the former mega-lobbyist.
Joel Seidman is an NBC News producer based in Washington, DC.
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