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Juror dismissed in Safavian trial

A federal judge dismissed one juror, seated an alternate and sent the first trial in the Abramoff lobbying scandal to the revised jury Wednesday to start deliberations over from scratch.
Trial For Abramoff Associate David Safavian Continues
David Safavian is accused of helping former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pursue land deals with the General Services Administration.Mark Wilson / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News and news services

A federal judge dismissed one juror, seated an alternate and sent the first trial in the Abramoff lobbying scandal to the revised jury Wednesday to start deliberations over from scratch.

The jury is weighing charges that former Bush administration official David Safavian concealed from ethics officials and investigators that he had assisted Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff's efforts to obtain two government properties.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman granted a government motion, over defense objections, to dismiss a female juror for apparently discussing the case with her father in violation of the judge's instructions.

He then seated the only remaining alternate juror, also female, and sent the 10 women and two men out to "put all your previous deliberations aside and start all over again."

Friedman said he doubted that would be difficult because the jurors had the case for less than two hours on Tuesday and had not discussed it in substantive detail before the problem with a juror arose. The judge questioned that juror and two others Tuesday before sending everyone home while he decided what to do.

Cause for dismissal
The problem came to light yesterday after the jury foreperson brought to the judge's attention that a fellow juror had told her and others that she had conversations with her father about the case. Safavian's expenses for an August 2002 golf trip to Scotland arranged by Abramoff have been an issue in trial testimony.

The juror - who was brought before the judge in open court – said she had discussed the costs of a golf trip to Scotland with her father, and that her father told her St. Andrews golf course in Scotland was "The Holy Grail of golf."

Judge Paul Friedman excused the juror because she failed to abide by his explicit instructions not to talk to others about the case, and not to do independent research about the facts in the case.

In dismissing the juror Wednesday, Friedman said he questioned her credibility, she had refused to follow instructions, had done independent research and had talked to people she shouldn't have about the case.  The judge, who brought the errant juror to the bench yesterday to ask her questions, today concluded, "she has not told us the truth on several occasions." 

Friedman also denied the jury's request for a dictionary and told them to ask him if they needed definitions.

Case specifics
Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist and former business partner of Safavian, was never called to testify, a point Safavian's defense attorney emphasized in closing arguments Monday.

The defense characterized the trial as a clear case of prosecutorial excess, but the government depicted Safavian as an ethically challenged public servant trying to serve two masters.

As the General Services Administration's chief of staff, Safavian "was appointed by the president to serve the people of the United States, but he chose instead to serve Jack Abramoff," Justice Department lawyer Nathaniel Edmonds told the jury on Monday.

Prosecutors seized on dozens of e-mails in which Abramoff and Safavian exchanged information about two pieces of GSA-controlled property that Abramoff wanted for himself or his lobbying clients. Many of the e-mails were written in the weeks before Safavian joined the weeklong trans-Atlantic golfing jaunt organized by Abramoff.

Safavian lawyer Barbara Van Gelder said Safavian "was trying to do the right thing" when he paid $3,100 for the trip and got approval from GSA ethics officers for the golfing excursion to Scotland and London.

Prosecutors scoffed at the idea anyone could think $3,100 would cover the chartered jet fare, $400 and $500-a-night hotel rooms, $400 rounds of golf at the famed St. Andrews course and $100 rounds of drinks.

Edmonds said Safavian revealed nothing about the three-day London leg of the trip or the extent of the lavish accommodations. Prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said if Safavian had told the truth, "there would have been questions" about who was paying for it and what business Abramoff had with GSA. Safavian told the ethics officers that Abramoff did all his work on Capitol Hill, a statement Van Gelder said is "literally true."

She said the government failed to prove its case by not summoning Abramoff to testify.

"If the government does not call Jack Abramoff they have not met their burden," Van Gelder said.

Prosecutors gave no reason for not calling Abramoff, who would likely be a witness if the Justice Department assembles criminal cases against any members of Congress. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to crimes in federal courts in Washington, D.C., and in Miami.