Another Bush Administration Official Indicted Over Abramoff

June 29, 2006

From The Washington Post:

An Interior Department official who has acknowledged receiving meals and tickets to sporting events from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been charged with filing a false financial disclosure report.

Roger G. Stillwell, an employee of the department’s Insular Affairs Office, was charged with a single misdemeanor count of making a false filing, according to papers filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Federal officials said he is expected to enter a guilty plea at a court appearance set for July 21 before Magistrate Deborah A. Robinson.

Stillwell is an officer on the desk that handles the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory whose government hired Abramoff as a lobbyist. The Washington Post reported in December that Stillwell was among the Interior officials whom Abramoff’s team tried to cultivate.

Stillwell could not be reached to comment yesterday, and his lawyer, Justin Murphy, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. Stillwell is accused of falsely certifying that he did not receive gifts from a prohibited source in a financial disclosure report filed in October 2004 covering the previous fiscal year.

Stillwell told The Post last year that he accepted dinners at Abramoff’s restaurant, Signatures, and tickets to Washington Redskins games. He justified those actions by saying they occurred while he was a contract employee at Interior, not a federal employee.

He told The Post that he had sent Abramoff copies of e-mails he sent to his boss. Stillwell said he saw “nothing wrong with doing that” because they did not contain confidential information. “I don’t feel it was a conflict of interest,” Stillwell told The Post.

During the 1990s, before Stillwell joined the Interior Department, his communications firm did work for the Marianas government, according to an audit by the island government.

Stillwell, a Democrat, said in the interview with The Post that he worked closely with Abramoff when their representation of the island government overlapped beginning in 1995.

Stillwell is the first Interior official charged in the probe. The case against him is being brought by the Justice Department task force investigating the Abramoff lobbying scandal, which includes criminal investigators from the office of Interior’s inspector general. Abramoff and three lobbying associates have pleaded guilty in the wide-ranging corruption investigation, which focuses in part on their dealings with the Interior Department and with Congress on behalf of their tribal and territorial clients.


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.


Noe To Change His Plea

May 12, 2006

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Admission on campaign-finance charges may affect coin-fund case

Indicted coin dealer Thomas W. Noe wants to change his not-guilty pleas to federal campaign-finance charges to resolve the case, according to a court filing yesterday.

A Noe attorney and a federal prosecutor filed a joint request for a hearing "as soon as possible" to change Noe’s plea to three charges that he illegally funneled $45,400 to President Bush’s re-election campaign.

U.S. Attorney Greg White in Cleveland declined to comment, and Noe’s attorneys could not be reached last night. But the filing suggests that Noe has agreed to accept responsibility and possibly cooperate in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Noe was set for trial July 24 in Toledo and was facing up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $950,000 if convicted on all counts.

He also has been indicted on 53 state charges related to his handling of a $50 million investment in rare coins for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. It’s unclear what effect a change of plea in the federal case could have on the state case.

Law-enforcement sources speculate that Noe’s willingness to change his plea in the federal case gives him incentive to resolve the state case as well so that he wouldn’t face other charges later if new in- formation surfaces.

A federal grand jury in Cleveland is still hearing evidence related to the bureau’s loss of $215 million in a hedge fund handled by MDL Capital Management of Pittsburgh and other investment issues.

On the other hand, Noe could decide to fight the state charges despite a guilty or no-contest plea in the federal case, others have speculated.

Noe faces 172 1 /2 years in prison if convicted on all state charges. He is scheduled for trial Aug. 29, but there often are delays in such cases as pretrial motions are filed.

It’s also unclear what cooperation or information Noe would be able to provide if required. Noe was a major Republican contributor and socialized with many public officials — including Gov. Bob Taft and four former members of his administration convicted of ethics charges for not divulging their gifts from Noe.

The drama is unfolding as Ohio Democrats are pushing to reclaim the governor’s office and other statewide posts, in part by arguing that the Republicans have presided over a "culture of corruption" in the state.

Democrats said Republicans will bear the stigma of Noe’s misdeeds regardless of whether he stands trial before the election.

"Tom Noe is the poster child for one-party rule and a pay-toplay system that exists in Columbus and Washington, D.C.," said Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman.

But Ohio Republican Chairman Robert T. Bennett said Noe’s legal problems won’t hurt GOP candidates this year.

"Voters understand this is not a one-party problem, but a problem for both parties," he said.

"I think they’re going to judge us on how we’ve dealt with the problem. … The way you send that message is to prosecute them to the fullest extent of law, and put ’em in jail under the maximum penalty allowed."

Noe was indicted last October on the federal charges after authorities said he circumvented the $2,000 federal limit on individual contributions by giving $45,400 of his own money to 24 people to contribute illegally to Bush in their names.

Noe carried out the scheme to fulfill a pledge to raise big money for the Bush-Cheney campaign, officials said. The contributions came at an Oct. 30, 2003, fundraiser for Bush at the Downtown Hyatt Regency in Columbus.

The former Maumee coin dealer was listed by the Bush-Cheney campaign as one of 19 Ohio "Pioneers" — someone who raised at least $100,000 for the campaign.

In the state case, the charges against Noe include theft, forgery and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Auditors determined more than $13.5 million was misspent.

Noe has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is free on bond.


Kentucky GOP Governor Indicted

May 12, 2006

From The Lexington Herald-Leader:

The special grand jury that’s been investigating state government hiring practices today indicted Gov. Ernie Fletcher on three misdemeanor charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination.

The jury also indicted former transportation Cabinet official Sam Beverage for perjury, which is a felony. And the jury also submitted to Franklin Circuit Judge William Graham 14 more indictments that are under seal.

Those indictments cover crimes that may have occurred before Aug. 29, 2005 when Fletcher pardoned all administration officials except himself.

On the charge of conspiracy, the indictment states Fletcher “ordered, directed and otherwise approved the development and implementation” of what became known as the governor’s personnel initiative.

That initiative, which included participation from cabinet aides across the administration, tracked the political backgrounds of new hires.

In the second indictment for official misconduct, Fletcher is accused along with other “co-conspirators” of ordering or approving “the appointment, promotion, demotion, transfer or dismissal” of rank-and-file state workers who are supposed to be judged on their qualifications, not political affiliations.

The third count charges Fletcher with violating the prohibition against political discrimination because he “willfully ordered, directed or approved” the firing of Michael Duncan, an investigator in the Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Inspector General.

Duncan, who had contributed to Fletcher’s 2003 Democratic opponent, was fired May 13, 2005. That was the same day another Transportation Cabinet whistleblower dropped off boxes of files to Attorney General Greg Stumbo, launching the investigation into the Fletcher administration’s personnel procedures.

Fletcher ultimately pardoned the 13 current or former administration officials or associates who were indicted by the grand jury. The charges were mostly misdemeanors.

Although he has acknowledged that mistakes were made, Fletcher has denied any wrongdoing. The Republican governor has accused Stumbo, a Democrat, of conducting a politically driven investigation.


Another GOP Congressman Under Investigation

May 11, 2006

From The LA Times:

Federal prosecutors have begun an investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Californian who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, government officials and others said, signaling the spread of a San Diego corruption probe.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has issued subpoenas in an investigation into the relationship between Lewis (R-Redlands) and a Washington lobbyist linked to disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), three people familiar with the investigation said.

The investigation is part of an expanding federal probe stemming from Cunningham's conviction for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and favors from defense contractors, according to the three sources.

It is not clear where the investigation is headed or what evidence the government has. But the probe suggests that investigators are looking past Cunningham to other legislators and, perhaps, the "earmarking" system that members of Congress use to allocate funds.

Lewis said Wednesday that he was not aware of any investigation, had not been contacted by any investigator and did not know why he would be investigated.

"For goodness sake, why would they be doing that?" Lewis asked.

The government is looking into the connection between Lewis and his longtime friend Bill Lowery, the sources said. Lowery, a lobbyist, is a former congressman from San Diego.

As chairman of the Appropriations panel, Lewis has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts for many of Lowery's clients, one of the sources said.

Lewis said he knew Lowery well, having spent 12 years in Congress with him, but denied favoring earmarks for Lowery's clients.

"Absolutely not," Lewis said. He said all the earmarks he authorized benefited "my constituents and my people." He said he was particularly proud of helping fund programs such as the cancer treatment center at Loma Linda University, a client of Lowery's. "That would never have been accomplished without an earmark," he said.

The Lewis investigation is in the early stages and has not been presented to a grand jury, the sources said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were either involved in the probe or were not authorized to speak about ongoing investigations.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the office of U.S. Atty. Debra Wong Yang, said that as a matter of policy he could not confirm or deny any investigation it might be conducting.

The probe focuses on what one source said was an unusually close relationship between Lewis and Lowery, who served on the House Appropriations Committee together from 1985 to 1993.

Shortly after leaving Congress, Lowery founded Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, a Washington lobbying firm whose clients include Brent R. Wilkes, a defense contractor who is the focus of a separate probe in San Diego.

Wilkes has been identified by his lawyer as the unindicted "co-conspirator No. 1" in the Cunningham corruption case.

In that case, Cunningham was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and favors from "co-conspirator No. 1" and his business associate, Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham. Cunningham and Wade are cooperating with federal investigators.

Wilkes and his companies have given Lewis at least $60,000 in campaign contributions over the years, making them among the lawmaker's largest contributors.

At the same time, Wilkes has paid Lowery's firm more than $160,000 in lobbying fees.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan research organization, Lewis has earmarked at least $70 million in federal funds for a mapping software company in Redlands. The company, Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., is one of Lowery's largest clients and has paid more than $320,000 in lobbying fees, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.

Investigators are said to be particularly interested in the intermingling of Lewis' and Lowery's staffs and whether it led to favorable treatment for Lowery's clients in securing government contracts.


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.


CIA #3, Under Investigation, Quits Agency

May 9, 2006

First Porter Goss, now Kyle Foggo.  It makes me wonder how senior members of the Bush administration are not considering jumping out of windows.  Damage control mode must be in overdrive in the west wing.

–DS

From MSNBC:

…Earlier today, the agency circulated an internal announcement that agency’s third ranking official, Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, has decided to step aside. News of Foggo’s departure inevitably will be overshadowed by the Hayden nomination, but its effects will continue to resonate within the agency. As NEWSWEEK first reported, the CIA’s inspector general has been investigating whether Foggo helped steer agency contracts to companies run by Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor who was identified as an unindicted co-conspirator when former San Diego congressman and ex-Navy air ace Randy (Duke) Cunningham pleaded guilty in a Congressional bribery scandal. The CIA has acknowledged that its internal watchdog is investigating whether Foggo helped steer any contracts to Wilkes, an old friend. The inspector general was looking into at least one specific contract, worth between $2 million and $3 million, which a CIA base in Germany granted to a company run by a relative of Wilkes. At the time the contract was issued, Foggo headed the CIA base’s logistics office, though he did not sign the contract.