WASHINGTON – A federal judge in Miami sentenced the once powerful Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, to five years and 10 months in prison Wednesday on criminal fraud charges stemming from a business deal involving a Florida casino boat company.
The sentence was the minimum under his plea agreement in the case. Abramoff could have faced more than seven years in prison, according to the plea agreement.
The Florida charges, which relate to the 2000 purchase of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet, are separate from an earlier guilty plea Abramoff entered in Washington on political corruption charges stemming from political kickbacks and pay-to-play schemes he and associates used to bilk American Indian tribes of about $46 million.
The Florida sentence will run concurrently with any sentence Abramoff will get from the political corruption charges in the Washington case. Abramoff entered pleas to both the Washington- and Florida-based cases in January.
Abramoff business associate Adam Kidan also was sentenced to 70 months in prison on similar charges relating to the casino boat deal. The two also will have to jointly pay $21 million in restitution, and will be under three years of probation upon release.
Kidan also will have to perform 750 hours of community service while on probation and he has requested to serve his time in New York, near his family.
Both men expressed remorse during the hearing.
Abramoff told the court that the fraud case had been"incredibly painful" for himself, his family and his friends.
"In the past two years I have started the process of becoming a new man," he said.
While Abramoff and Kidan were granted 90 days to surrender, the judge also granted a motion to extend the beginning of their incarceration by 180 days at the request of the government.
Abramoff was not expected to go to prison immediately until the Washington political corruption case concludes. On those charges, he faces nine to 11 years in prison. The two are also expected to offer testimony regarding a mob-style murder case related to the casino boat deal.
Abramoff did not speak to reporters as he left the Miami courthouse, but was seen wearing a baseball cap instead of the infamous fedora he wore to one plea hearing in January.
Reports of Abramoff's actions, including pricey overseas trips with public officials and cozy relationships with top Republicans, spurred a federal investigation that resulted in a number of investigations linked to the lobbyist and people connected to him, including an indictment of a top Bush administration official, David Safavian.
In the meantime, federal investigators grew suspicious of a boat deal that Abramoff and Kidan struck. Both have pleaded guilty to falsifying bank statements through a $23 million fraudulent wire transfer, which inflated the worth of their personal assets and allowed them to make the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz Casinos.
The deal also drew attention after Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, took specific efforts to mention the company in the Congressional Record, and the former owner of the company, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, was murdered in a mob-style hit. Three men were charged last fall and have pleaded not guilty. Both Abramoff and Kidan have denied involvement in the slaying.
Kidan pleaded guilty on Dec. 15 to two charges and also was scheduled for sentencing Wednesday.
Abramoff and Kidan admitted using the fake wire transfer to secure $60 million in loans they used to buy SunCruz.
As part of the agreement, Abramoff agreed to assist in the federal investigations probing possible corruption in Congress and the Bush administration.
Words of Support
Before Wednesday's sentencing hearing, more than 260 people — including rabbis, military officers, a professional hockey referee, a congressman and a U.S. territorial governor — wrote letters asking for leniency from the federal judge.
Though auditors in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands questioned his lobbying expenses as excessive, Abramoff was a "personal friend and political champion" of the "beleaguered" Pacific islands, its current governor wrote.
"He was a natural crusader and political activist, with great sympathy for our un-represented Commonwealth," Marianas Gov. Benigno R. Fitial wrote in a letter penned on official government stationery.
The Marianas, famous for their low-paying garment factories, hired Abramoff to keep the islands' workers exempt from U.S. laws like the minimum wage.
Abramoff got just a single letter of support from a member of Congress — his longtime friend Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
"Over many years, I've known a far different Jack that the profit-seeking megalomaniac portrayed in the press," Rohrabacher wrote. "Jack was a selfless patriot for most of the time I knew him."
Rohrabacher said he took a risk others in Congress wouldn't — writing the letter — because he didn't want Abramoff's many accomplishments to be lost among his crimes.
"All I can say is that Jack was a good friend, and even your good friends at times do wrong things and he's admitted that and has to pay the price for that. But that doesn't mean that you abandon him because he's made wrong choices in his life," Rohrabacher said.
FOX News' Jennifer Lipkin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.