Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a key figure in ethics investigations involving U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges he defrauded lenders in a casino cruise line deal.
Abramoff did not appear in person. Defense attorney Neal Sonnett entered the plea on his behalf during a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Patrick White.
"It was a very pro forma hearing, just the formal entry of his not guilty plea," Sonnett said.
Abramoff and Adam Kidan, his partner in the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz Casino five years ago, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, earlier this month on conspiracy and wire fraud charges.
Kidan, of New York, had already pleaded not guilty. He and Abramoff, who lives in Maryland, are free on bond and no trial date has been set.
If convicted, they face up to 30 years in prison and could be ordered to pay $60 million in restitution.
The indictment alleges they obtained a $60 million loan by using a fake wire transfer to make it appear they had a $23 million cash stake in the casino cruise company.
The case has attracted particular attention because Abramoff is a prominent political fund-raiser and close friend of DeLay, a Texas Republican. DeLay has faced questions about whether some of his travel expenses were paid by Abramoff, which would violate House rules. DeLay has denied knowing any expenses were paid by the lobbyist.
Abramoff is also under federal investigation in connection with his lobbying efforts for Indian tribes with casinos.