Art Lien  /  NBC News
David Safavian, standing with defense attorney Barbara Van Gelder, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Judge Paul L. Friedman (l), as court reporter, clerk and prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg (l-r, seated) look on.
By
NBC News
updated 10/27/2006 4:08:12 PM ET 2006-10-27T20:08:12

David Safavian, was sentenced in federal court today to 18 months in federal prison. Safavian, a former top White House procurement official, and also the one-time chief of staff of the General Services Administration, was convicted in June of lying to investigators about his dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Judge Paul Friedman said that Safavian was guilty of "abuse of the public's trust." And the judge made reference to culture of corruption in Washington which came to light in the three-year influence peddling investigation of Abramoff. Judge Friedman said, "in the culture in which we live in this city maybe it's harder to resist." The judge added Safavian's deception about his dealings with Abramoff may have been motivated by his desire to "hang out with the big boys."

Safavian openly wept in court as he asked for leniency and apologized for giving the appearance of impropriety but said it was not fraudulent.

"Yes, Jack Abramoff was a friend, but he wasn't my co-conspirator and I wasn't his," Safavian said. "There was no conspiracy to defraud anyone, least of all the taxpayers."

But he didn't say in court what Friedman said he wanted to hear. Friedman told defense attorneys he was leaning toward a sentence of 15-21 months in prison and was not convinced Safavian had accepted responsibility for his crimes. "Get up here and tell me, 'I agree I concealed. I agree I obstructed justice,"' Friedman said earlier in the day. "I don't believe he's done that."

Prosecutors had sought a three-year prison term for Safavian, the first guilty verdict by a jury in the influence peddling probe surrounding Abramoff.  Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to corrupt public officials, including Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who also pleaded guilty several weeks ago.

Abramoff emails
Hundreds of e-mails presented at his trial showed how Abramoff showered Safavian with trips and other perks while constantly peppering him for inside information about GSA-controlled property the lobbyist wanted -- including the historic Old Post Office in downtown Washington.

Safavian's convictions stems from his statements to GSA ethics officials and FBI investigators about a 2002 golf junket to Scotland he attended along with Abramoff, Rep Bob Ney, and former Christian Coalition head, Ralph Reed.

Ney pleaded guilty to covering up expensive gifts and trips from Abramoff. He admitted taking trips, tickets, meals and campaign donations from Abramoff in return for official actions on behalf of his clients.

Two former aides to Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, have also pleaded guilty, as has Ney's former chief of staff.

Roger Stillwell, a former Interior Department official, also pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor charge for not reporting tickets he received from Abramoff.

Abramoff is scheduled to report to federal prison in Cumberland, Md. for a 70-month sentence in his other guilty plea in Florida relating to the SunCruz gambling casino scandal.  He had yet to be sentenced in the Washington influence peddling scheme.  Abramoff will serve both sentences concurrently.

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