Assuring the judge he is working to become “a new man,” disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for committing fraud in the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.
He will remain free while helping prosecutors with a vast bribery investigation involving members of Congress.
Abramoff, 47, and former business partner Adam Kidan, 41, received the minimum under federal guidelines: five years and 10 months.
The two pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy and fraud for concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they were contributing their own money toward the purchase of the $147.5 million SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet. Based on that fraudulent transfer, lenders provided the pair with $60 million in financing.
‘Becoming a new man’
Abramoff told U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck that he had “started the process of becoming a new man. I am much chastened and profoundly remorseful. I can only hope that the Almighty and those I have wronged will forgive my trespasses.”
He and Kidan were also ordered to pay restitution of more than $21 million. Both must serve three years’ probation after they get out of prison.
Abramoff pleaded guilty in the SunCruz fraud in January. The same week, he pleaded guilty in Washington to defrauding Indian tribes and other lobbying clients out of millions of dollars. He also agreed to cooperate in a corruption probe that could involve up to 20 members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. No date has been set for his sentencing in that case.
More time to cooperate
The judge said Abramoff and Kidan will not have to report to prison for at least 90 days so they can continue cooperating with investigators in the corruption case and the slaying of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis.
Boulis was gunned down in 2001 at the wheel of his car amid a power struggle over the gambling fleet. Three men face murder charges, including one who worked for Kidan as a consultant at SunCruz and who allegedly has ties to New York’s Gambino crime family.
Abramoff and Kidan have denied any role in the killing and neither has been charged.
If prosecutors are satisfied with their cooperation in those cases, the two men’s sentences could be reduced.
Documents shift blame
Abramoff and his attorneys declined to speak with reporters as they left court. His defense team filed 62 pages of documents that depicted Abramoff as a deeply religious Orthodox Jew who was generous to charities, dedicated to his wife and five children and filled with remorse over his crimes.
But the documents also distanced Abramoff from the SunCruz fraud and laid most of the blame on Kidan, a New York businessman and disbarred lawyer.
“After the company was purchased, Mr. Abramoff learned that some of the representations made by his partner were untrue,” the defense said.
Kidan’s attorney, Joseph Conway, said his client has acknowledged his guilt but disagrees “with the statement of facts as laid out by Mr. Abramoff.”
In his own letter to the judge, Kidan said that he knew the SunCruz deal was wrong but that he “was very caught up in the fast-paced world of my partner and the high profile that came along with it.”
The SunCruz fleet of 11 ships sailed from nine Florida ports and Myrtle Beach, S.C., to international waters. The company operates gambling cruises under new ownership after emerging from bankruptcy.
Supporters asked for leniency
Before the hearing Wednesday, more than 260 people—including rabbis, military officers and even a professional hockey referee—wrote letters on the men’s behalf asking the judge for leniency.
The letters, obtained by The Associated Press, put a new spin on the foibles and crimes of a man who became the face of Washington’s latest corruption scandal.
“Jack is a good person, who in his quest to be successful, lost sight of the rules,” National Hockey League referee Dave Jackson wrote, describing the time Abramoff brought 14 youngsters to his dressing room before a game.
Kidan, in his own letter to the judge, said he knew the SunCruz deal was wrong but said he “was very caught up in the fast paced world of my partner and the high profile that came along with it.” He added, “I am not the horrible person that the media has written about.”