Former Deputy Interior Secretary James Steven Griles - who pleaded guilty in March to a single felony charge of obstructing justice by lying to a Senate committee about his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff - was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to 10 months in prison and a fine of $30,000.00.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle said, to Griles that this is a "serious offense," and "you are not above the law."
The former No. 2 official at the Interior Department was asking for leniency, seeking three months house arrest, community service and "a reasonable fine."
Abramoff's key Interior contact?
Griles downplayed his role in the Abramoff scandal. His attorneys said he never accepted anything of value from Abramoff and he asked a judge to consider his career of public service.
Judge Huvelle said "I find even now that you try to minimize and excuse your comments" to the Senate committee investigating Abramoff's ties. "The testimony you gave Congress was untrue," Huvelle said.
Griles appeared before Huvelle in tears, and said "I fully accept responsibility," and that this was the "most difficult time in my life." But he insisted that he did not have an extensive relationship with Abramoff, "he came to my office one time," Griles told the judge.
Under the plea agreement, prosecutors had proposed a split sentence of 5-months in prison sentence and 5-months of home detention for Griles -- the minimum they could ask for under sentencing guidelines.
According to prosecutors, Griles once asked Abramoff for legal services and what he hoped would be a lucrative job offer once he left the government. "Griles was not shy about asking Abramoff for return favors for the benefit of others close to him," prosecutors wrote.
And Griles intervened on September 24, 2003, when Abramoff had a problem at his downtown Washington restaurant. Touchstone Pictures was filming the motion picture "National Treasure" on the grounds of the United States Navy Memorial, steps away from Abramoff's restaurant "Signatures."
Abramoff was upset that the film crew and its trailers and equipment were blocking the valet parking area abutting his restaurant. Because the film crew had a valid permit, they ignored Abramoff's demands to move away from his restaurant. Knowing that the Navy Memorial was built on Federal land.
Abramoff telephoned Griles on his personal cell phone. And Griles, contacted the Special Assistant to the Director of the National Park Service and asked him to investigate Abramoff's complaint. The Park Service official went to the restaurant, spoke with both the manager and a representative of the film crew, and directed the film crew to move their equipment away from the restaurant's valet parking area.
That night Abramoff e-mailed a colleague, "I have already chatted with Griles and am all over their asses" wrote Abramoff.
The woman who allegedly acted as the initial liaison between Griles and Abramoff - who sought favors for his American Indian tribal clients from the Interior Department official - in a separate plea agreement said she served as a conduit for information between Abramoff and Griles "in order to foster Abramoff's and his client's interests."
Italia Federici, who prosecutors said had a ''personal, and at times, romantic relationship'' with Griles, introduced him to Abramoff and their relationship lasted for over 2 years.
Prosecutor said, that Federici "would communicate in-depth with Abramoff about his clients and the issues and concerns applicable to them, and then communicate in-depth with Griles about these issues and/or forward to Griles white papers and other information and documents Abramoff supplied." Prosecutor also state, "the defendant also met with Abramoff and Griles in order to speak substantively and directly about these issues."
Federici also admitted to obstructing the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation of Abramoff's dealings with Indian Tribes. The obstruction charge states that Federici, "did knowingly and corruptly influence, obstruct, and impede, and endeavor to influence, obstruct, and impede the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which an investigation and review was being had by the United States Senate and a Committee of the United States Senate."
Abramoff is currently serving a five-and-a-half-year sentence for his conviction in the Florida based SunCruz Casinos gambling boat fraud case. So far, the federal investigation has amassed 13 guilty pleas and one conviction after trial as part of the Justice Department's influence-peddling probe of Abramoff's conduct as a Washington lobbyist.
In addition to Abramoff and former Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, Griles and Federici, the list of convictions includes; Ney's former chief of staff, Will Heaton; and one-time Abramoff associates Michael Scanlon, Tony Rudy, Neil Volz, and Adam Kidan and Roger Stillwell and two House committee staffers.
David Safavian, the former top procurement officer at the Office of Management and Budget, was convicted on four charges of making false statements and obstructing justice stemming from his dealings with Abramoff.
Abramoff has yet to be sentenced in the Washington lobbying scandal. Griles has asked that he be incarcerated at the Federal Prison camp in Petersburg, Virginia.
Joel Seidman is an NBC producer based in Washington.