MIAMI – Once-powerful lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to conspiracy and wire fraud stemming from his 2000 purchase of a gambling boat fleet.
The plea by Abramoff, 46, before U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck came a day after Abramoff entered guilty pleas to three other federal charges as part of an agreement with prosecutors requiring him to cooperate in a broad corruption investigation into members of Congress.
Like a former business partner did last month, Abramoff pleaded guilty to concocting a false $23 million wire transfer that made it appear as if the pair contributed a sizable stake of their own cash into the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz Casinos.
The plea agreement calls for a maximum sentence of just over seven years, but that sentence could be reduced if Abramoff cooperates fully and would run simultaneously with whatever sentence is imposed in the Washington corruption case. The remaining four counts in the Florida indictment will be dismissed.
"Guilty, your honor," Abramoff said, when Huck asked how he wanted to plead. Huck sent a tentative sentencing date of March 16.
Abramoff, wearing a dark double-breasted suit and tan baseball cap, avoided a crowd of reporters and camera crews after the hearing by ducking out a courthouse side door and getting into a waiting car along with his Washington lawyer, Abbe Lowell. Abramoff's Miami attorney, Neal Sonnett, declined to comment.
Abramoff has agreed to cooperate in a wide-ranging corruption probe that could involve up to 20 members of Congress and aides, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
President Bush joined several lawmakers, including DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, in announcing plans to donate Abramoff's campaign contributions to charity. Bush's re-election campaign is giving up $6,000 in campaign contributions connected to Abramoff.
Abramoff's ex-partner in the SunCruz deal, 41-year-old Adam Kidan, pleaded guilty on Dec. 15 to two charges and faces sentencing on March 1.
Abramoff and Kidan admitted using the fake wire transfer to secure $60 million in loans they used to buy SunCruz.
Abramoff "will face the consequences of his actions," said U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta after the plea hearing. "Frauds like that committed here are not victimless. They affect real people and impact the integrity of our financial institutions."
Although both defendants in the SunCruz fraud have pleaded guilty, Acosta said the investigation remains open. He said there are links between the SunCruz purchase and some of the congressional corruption allegations, but would not elaborate.
The Miami businessman who had sold SunCruz to Abramoff and Kidan, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, was later 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.
Abramoff won't be going to jail right away. He probably won't be sentenced for several months because he has to cooperate with the government corruption investigation. And even then, he'll probably be permitted to surrender.
A copy of the eight-page plea agreement, obtained by The Associated Press before the hearing, requires that Abramoff testify before any grand jury or court proceeding that prosecutors request and provide any documents they might want.
In return, the agreement says, the government will not further prosecute the defendant for anything he discloses "in debriefing sessions with attorneys and agents of the United States."