WASHINGTON – After years of using expensive gifts, campaign donations and exotic trips to win access to the White House and Congress, Jack Abramoff's illegal dealings won him an open door from a final government agency Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Abramoff was to report to federal prison to begin serving a nearly six-year prison sentence for a fraudulent deal to buy a fleet of casino ships in Florida. He also is awaiting sentencing for corrupting government officials and their staff members.
Abramoff, who made a name for himself on Capitol Hill by lavishing politicians with football tickets or whisking them away on faraway golf junkets, became the face of government corruption and contributed to the Republican party's Election Day defeats nationwide.
If it were up to the Justice Department, however, Abramoff wouldn't be heading to prison — at least not yet. He could hold the key to a sweeping corruption case involving Congress, members of the Bush administration and their aides, and prosecutors said putting their star witness behind bars would impede the investigation.
But a Miami federal judge refused to delay the sentence, meaning Abramoff's cooperation will have to continue from prison, where he will be inmate No. 27593-112. Abramoff's lawyers had no comment.
Abramoff was originally assigned to a federal prison in Pennsylvania about four hours away from Washington. Prosecutors wanted him assigned to a prison in Cumberland, Md., about two hours away.
The Justice Department said the issue has been resolved and, though the Bureau of Prisons will not comment on where Abramoff will report, prison officials began making preparation for a crush of reporters outside the Cumberland prison.
The Cumberland facility includes a medium-security prison with about 1,100 prisoners and a minimum-security camp with about 300 prisoners. The Justice Department has indicated in court papers that it wants Abramoff to serve time in the minimum-security camp.
Abramoff enjoyed access and influence across Capitol Hill, from his close ties to congressmen to his hundreds of contacts with White House officials. He kept his powerful friends flush with campaign cash, gifts and trips such as a $92,000 chartered jet to Scotland for a golf outing with Rep.Bob Ney, Bush administration official David Safavian and congressional aides.
Ney, an Ohio Republican who recently resigned, became the first congressman convicted in the case when he admitted last month that he took official actions on behalf of Abramoff's clients in exchange for his gifts and campaign donations.
The investigation had already ensnared Ney's former chief of staff as well as two aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. The investigation cost DeLay his leadership seat before he ultimately resigned, and it contributed to the Election Day defeat of Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.
Safavian was sentenced in October to 18 months in prison for lying to investigators about his ties to Abramoff. He is asking a federal judge to postpone his sentence until he can appeal his conviction.
Burns, who received about $150,000 in Abramoff-related donations and whose aides traveled on the lobbyist's jet to the 2001 Super Bowl, has denied any wrongdoing. Though two of DeLay's aides have pleaded guilty, the former majority leader maintains his innocence and has not been charged.
Also under scrutiny are Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., who accepted campaign money from Abramoff and used the lobbyist's luxury sports box for a fundraiser without initially reporting it, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, who senators and a former colleague said gave preferential treatment to Abramoff and his Indian tribe clients.