J. Steven Griles, former deputy interior secretary during President Bush's first term, was notified by letter and told of possible charges at a meeting last week with Justice Department prosecutors, sources familiar with the probe said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry continues.
Griles' attorney and a spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Griles has since resumed his work as an energy lobbyist, which he did before joining Interior. It's those ties that were the subject of a host of internal probes while he was at the department.
Prosecutors are investigating Griles now for possible criminal charges that include lying to Congress and honest service fraud, the sources said. The latter is a 1988 law saying citizens are guaranteed a right to the "honest services" of public officials.
The charges involve questions about whether Griles falsely testified in 2005 before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about Abramoff's attempts to hire Griles away from Interior.
The Senate committee's investigation and e-mails detailed numerous contacts with Abramoff and Italia Federici, who was a go-between for Abramoff. Federici headed the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which she co-founded with former Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Federal investigators have been looking at the hundreds of thousands of dollars the group received in donations from Abramoff's Indian tribal clients and from energy and mining companies, including some that were Griles' ex-clients, the sources said.
The Washington Post first reported Wednesday that federal prosecutors had told Griles he is a target in the Abramoff investigation.