Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, convicted of federal charges after using expensive gifts, campaign donations and exotic trips to win access to the powerful in Washington, reported to prison Wednesday, where he will start life with a new identity: federal inmate No. 27593-112.
Abramoff arrived at about 6:30 a.m. EST at a relatively secluded prison facility in western Maryland and began to serve a nearly six-year prison sentence for a fraud conviction involving the SunCruz gambling casino scandal in Florida.
Abramoff was delivered out of sight of waiting reporters and camera crews at the minimum security facility and his arrival was announced in a two-paragraph, six-sentence statement by a prison representative.
The 334-bed minimum security facility at Cumberland, Maryland where Abramoff will be serving his 70-month sentence is far from a haven for white collar criminals. Stephen Finger, the public information officer at Cumberland tells NBC that the majority of inmates Abramoff will serve time with in prison have average sentences of 6 years. Most of the prisoners are incarcerated for drug related offenses.
Abramoff was processed when he arrived and assigned dormitory-style housing where he will share a room with five other inmates. Finger said that Abramoff’s 7-1/2hour workday can consist of assignments in the prison kitchen, or as a plumber or painter.
The Justice Department and Abramoff's attorney wanted him to be imprisoned at a facility close to Washington so it would be more convenient for Justice Department investigators to elicit his continued cooperation in the their ongoing corruption investigation.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons had initially denied Abramoff's request to serve his time at the medium security, federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland - about a two-hour drive from Washington. Instead they have designated Abramoff to another, more distant and higher security facility at Loretto, Pennsylvania.
Justice Department prosecutors feared that if Abramoff ended up in Loretto - which is about 180 miles from Washington - their probe could be seriously hampered or stalled.
The federal prisons bureau said Abramoff was not eligible for Cumberland because they said he faced more than 10 years in prison on the Washington corruption conviction.
Government lawyers and Abramoff's attorney, Abbe Lowell, at first wanted to rush his Washington sentencing hearing to this Friday to make clear that Abramoff would still be eligible for serving his time in Cumberland. They wrote in a court filing, "Until defendant Abramoff is sentenced to either a concurrent term of imprisonment of less than ten years or has served sufficient time that less than ten years imprisonment remains, defendant Abramoff likely will be ineligible for placement at a minimum security facility such as Cumberland."
But Tuesday the motion to expedite the Washington sentencing was withdrawn leaving it unclear which federal facility Abramoff report to. Both the Department of Justice and Lowell, Abramoff's lawyer, had told NBC that negotiations were ongoing with Judge Ellen S. Huvelle who had yet to rule on setting a new date for the sentencing hearing. Judge Huvelle had set a Dec. 8 date for Abramoff's next court appearance.
The three-year Washington corruption probe has so-far netted former congressman Bob Ney, who to admitted to accepting tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips and other perks from Abramoff and an international businessman. Ney is expected to serve 27-months in prison based on a Justice Department recommendation.
Former top White House procurement official David Safavian was convicted by a jury in June and sentenced to 18-months in federal prison for lying about his dealings with Abramoff.
Two former aides to Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, have pleaded guilty to corrupting public officials, 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.
Joel Seidman is an NBC producer, based in Washington, DC.