Safavian Guilty

June 21, 2006

From The Washington Post:

David H. Safavian, a former Bush administration official with close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, was found guilty today in federal court of four of five felony charges against him in connection with the Abramoff corruption and influence-peddling scandal.

The verdict was announced shortly after the jury of two men and 10 women began their fifth day of deliberations in Washington following the trial of Safavian on charges of making false statements to federal officials and obstruction of justice.

Safavian, 38, a former chief of staff of the General Services Administration and top federal procurement officer, was accused of lying about a 2002 golfing trip to Scotland with Abramoff and obstructing an investigation by the GSA inspector general and other investigators. He was also charged with concealing his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area.

He became the first person to be put on trial in connection with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to fraud and conspiracy charges. Four other former Abramoff associates also have pleaded guilty so far. As part of their plea deals, they have agreed to cooperate in an investigation of Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers allegedly embroiled in a broad public corruption scandal involving the acceptance of various inducements in return for official acts. Ney denies any wrongdoing.

The jury found Safavian guilty of three counts of making false statements — to the GSA Office of Inspector General, a GSA ethics official and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee — and one count of obstructing the GSA inspector general's investigation. He was acquitted of another charge of obstructing an investigation by the Indian Affairs Committee.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Safavian thus faces up to 20 years in prison for the four counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12 by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman.

Safavian, an Iranian American from Detroit, worked with Abramoff at a Washington lobbying firm in the 1990s, representing the Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe among other clients. In 1997, he formed an ideologically conservative lobbying group with Grover Norquist, a leading anti-tax lobbyist and prominent Republican activist.

Safavian became chief of staff of the GSA, the federal government's property management agency, in 2002. The following year, President Bush nominated him to be administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget in the White House. He began that job in November 2004.

Safavian resigned from the post last September and was placed under arrest after a federal grand jury returned an indictment against him.

The charges against Safavian stemmed from a federal probe that originally focused on Abramoff's dealings with Indian tribes, which brought Abramoff and an associate at least $82 million in fees. The investigation by an interagency federal task force turned up a trove of information about Abramoff's aggressive efforts to obtain favors for clients from members of Congress and top Bush administration bureaucrats.

One such endeavor, an August 2002 trip by chartered jet to Scotland, included golf at the Old Course at St. Andrews and other historic courses. Safavian, then the GSA's chief of staff, was one of nine people, including Abramoff, who went on the trip. Among the others were Ney, then chairman of the House Administration Committee; Ralph Reed, a lobbyist and former leader of the Christian Coalition; and Neil G. Volz, a lobbying associate of Abramoff's who formerly worked on Ney's staff. The total cost of the trip came to more than $130,000.

In keeping with GSA rules that prohibit the receipt of a gift from any person seeking official action by the agency, Safavian assured a GSA ethics officer in writing that Abramoff had "no business before GSA" at the time of the trip. Based on that pledge, Safavian was given permission to go on the trip.

However, according to the indictment, Abramoff by then had repeatedly contacted Safavian about the possibility of leasing the Old Post Office, a century-old Washington building managed by the GSA, for his clients. Abramoff also had secretly enlisted Safavian in an effort to acquire 40 acres of land on the site of the GSA-managed Naval Surface Warfare Center – White Oak, a 600-acre property in Silver Spring, Md. Abramoff wanted the land to use as a campus for a Hebrew school he had founded.

According to a criminal complaint, Safavian lied about his contacts with Abramoff on three occasions after his initial false statement to the GSA ethics officer about the trip to Scotland.

In addition to Abramoff, the former associates who have pleaded guilty so far in the corruption probe are Volz, Adam Kidan, Michael Scanlon and Tony C. Rudy. Kidan was Abramoff's partner in a Florida casino cruise ship company that was purchased with the help of a fraudulently obtained bank loan. Scanlon and Rudy are lobbying associates who formerly worked for Tom DeLay, the once-powerful Republican congressman from Texas and former House majority leader who left office June 9.

DeLay, who was enlisted by Abramoff to help defeat efforts to rein in labor and human rights abuses in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a former Abramoff client, was indicted last year in Texas in a separate case involving the alleged laundering of political contributions. DeLay has denied the charges.


Bush Nominated Abramoff Associate On Day Of Visit

May 11, 2006

From Raw Story:

Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff went to the White House on the same day President Bush nominated one of Abramoff's former colleagues to be Assistant Secretary of Labor.

President Bush announced his intent to nominate Patrick Pizzella, who worked with Abramoff at his former lawfirm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, the same day Abramoff made a visit to the White House, according to Secret Service records released today.

On Mar. 6, 2001, Abramoff entered at 4:23 p.m. and left at 4:49 p.m., according to Cox News Service, which obtained the records from the government watchdog Judicial Watch today (Article).

A White House press release shows that Bush nominated Patrick Pizzella the very same day.

"The President intends to nominate Patrick Pizzella to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Administration and Management," the release says. "He is presently the Acting Chief of Staff at the Office of Personnel Management and previously was a government affairs representative with the law firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds in Washington, D.C. From 1990 to 1995 he served as the Director of the Office of Administration at the Federal Housing Finance Board and he served in a variety of positions at the U.S. Department of Education, the Small Business Administration and the General Services Administration during the Reagan and Bush administrations. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina in Columbia."

Pizzella is the only Abramoff associate to remain in a senior Bush Administration post. David Safavian, who also worked with Abramoff, was arrested last year after allegations that he was obstructing the government's investigation of the Abramoff case. Safavian had been Bush's top procurement officer, overseeing $300 billion annually in federal spending.


Another Nail In DeLay’s Coffin

May 7, 2006

From Raw Story:

Prosecutors have e-mails showing Rep. Tom DeLay's office knew lobbyist Jack Abramoff had arranged the financing for the GOP leader's controversial European golfing trip in 2000 and was concerned "if someone starts asking questions."

House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting free trips from lobbyists. DeLay, R-Texas, reported to Congress that a Republican advocacy group had paid for the spring 2000 trip that DeLay, his wife and top aides took to Scotland and England.

The e-mails obtained by The Associated Press show DeLay's staff asked Abramoff — not the advocacy group — to account for the costs that had to be legally disclosed on congressional travel forms. DeLay's office was worried the group being cited as paying the costs might not even know about them, the e-mails state.

Abramoff's team sought to low-ball the cost estimates and DeLay's office ultimately reported to Congress a total that was a few thousand dollars lower than the one the lobbyist provided, the documents show.

"We should give them the most minimal numbers for cost of the hotel (do not include golf), food and plays," Abramoff wrote two assistants at his Preston Gates lobbying firm in an e-mail from June 29, 2000. One of those assistants, Susan Ralston, now works for top White House adviser Karl Rove.

In a follow-up e-mail to Abramoff, Ralston reported she talked to DeLay's then-deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, who suggested numbers that could be used as cost figures on the congressional travel report. Rudy had gone on the trip with his boss.

"Tony said: $6,800 for flights per person. $300 per night for hotel, $120 per day per person for meals, $500 per day for transportation," Ralston wrote Abramoff. Abramoff's credit card bill shows some costs were higher.

Federal prosecutors have secured the cooperation of Abramoff and Rudy, and are investigating whether DeLay filed false public reports to disguise the source and size of political donations, travel and other gifts he received from special interests. Several witnesses have been questioned in recent months about the Scotland trip e-mails.

DeLay's lawyer said Friday he believes the congressman's office asked Abramoff, instead of the GOP group, for the trip costs because the group's top executive was on maternity leave. He noted Abramoff served as director for the group listed as paying for the trip.

"The way I read this was that staff was trying to get it right," lawyer Richard Cullen said of the e-mails. "His (DeLay's) goal and his marching orders to his staff was to do it correctly. And I think staff tried to do it correctly."

An expert on federal disclosure reports said the e-mails raise serious questions about whether DeLay's office filed a false report.

"It clearly shows some members live in a dream world of high-class living and fictional accounting. DeLay's office was part of the public deception. It makes you wonder if there are more filings as fictional as this one is turning out to be," said Kent Cooper, the former chief of public disclosure for the Federal Election Commission.

Abramoff's lawyers declined comment.

It was first disclosed more than a year ago that Abramoff arranged for two clients to pick up most of the costs for the trip and to route the money to the National Center for Public Policy Research listed in the travel reports as the sponsor.

Abramoff's credit card bills show the lobbyist initially charged tens of thousands of dollars in air fare for DeLay's trip to his American Express card. Cullen said he believes the lobbyist consulted with an ethics expert before making the payments.

The trip, which included golf at the famous St. Andrew's professional course, and others like it have become symbols of Abramoff's largesse to lawmakers and a focal point of the criminal investigation into influence peddling on Capitol Hill.

DeLay has steadfastly maintained he believed that the center paid for the trip as he reported.

The e-mails show that when DeLay's office began preparing the required disclosure reports for the free trip, his aides asked Abramoff's lobbying firm for the cost figures instead of the GOP group.

"Our financial disclosure forms from the England/Scotland trip are due tomorrow afternoon. … I would appreciate if you would send me your information," a DeLay aide wrote Abramoff's firm.

The e-mails show Abramoff's team provided then-DeLay chief of staff Susan Hirschmann a final cost figure of $75,600 for the weeklong European trip taken by DeLay; his wife, Christine; Hirschmann; Hirschmann's husband; and Rudy.

The e-mails stated DeLay's office could attribute the figures to "the final bookkeeping efforts" by the GOP group. Despite the figure from Abramoff, DeLay's report to Congress put the cost lower, at just over $70,000.

Ralston wrote she had a follow-up conversation with DeLay's office. Hirschmann wanted "a name" of someone at the GOP group who would attest to paying for the trip and was concerned whether the center's executive director, Amy Ridenour, knew about the costs.

"She (Hirschmann) just wants to make sure that if someone starts asking questions that Amy Ridenour knows about these s," Ralston wrote.

Hirschmann did not return a call to her office Friday and an e-mail message seeking comment.

The documents show Abramoff initially put the airfare for the DeLay trip on his American Express credit card and arranged for two clients — the Mississippi Choctaw tribe and eLottery — to route money to Ridenour's GOP policy group to cover the cost.

DeLay's lawyer said despite the discrepancy in cost figures and the evidence Abramoff initially paid for the airfare on his credit card, DeLay has no plans to change his travel report to Congress. "I think the report was made in good faith," the lawyer said.


Safavian On Trial

March 26, 2006

From MSNBC: 

The influence-peddling scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff heats up again on Friday when a former Bush administration official and associate of the disgraced lobbyist appears at a pretrial hearing in federal court.

David Safavian, the White House's former top procurement official, is charged with misrepresenting his connections with lobbyists — specifically, Abramoff — while working at the General Services Administration.

A key event was a lavish golf junket to Scotland in 2002, mostly paid for by a charity Abramoff controlled. Among those who went on the trip was Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed Jr.

The golf trip cost $130,000, according to court documents. The tab was officially paid for by the Capital Athletic Foundation, a nonprofit run by Abramoff, but the funding was provided by a handful of his Indian tribe lobbying clients in payments sent to the foundation. Prosecutors said Safavian gave Abramoff a check for $3,100 to cover his share of expenses associated with the trip.

Safavian sought clearance from a GSA ethics official prior to the Scotland trip, but prosecutors say he did not tell the official about Abramoff's attempts to acquire federally owned properties controlled by the GSA, or about the help Safavian was providing to Abramoff in those efforts.

According to court papers filed by the prosecution: "On the Scotland trip, defendant (Safavian) and Abramoff communicated about Abramoff acquiring an interest in GSA properties. … Abramoff commented: 'Had good chats with David during the trip. He wants us to push hard on this project [Old Post Office] and he thinks we can get it.'"

hree other lawmakers have been linked to efforts by Abramoff and Safavian to "secure leases" of government property for Abramoff's clients, according to court filings by federal prosecutors.

Republican Reps. Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Don Young of Alaska both wrote to the GSA on September 2002, "urging the agency to give preferential treatment to groups such as Indian tribes when evaluating development projects," court papers say.

The name of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., appears in e-mails suggesting she was trying to help Abramoff secure a GSA lease for land in Silver Spring, Md., according to prosecutors.

An April 18 trial date has been scheduled for Safavian before U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman.