WASHINGTON – The Interior Department's former No. 2 official was sentenced to 10 months in prison Tuesday for lying to senators in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, the highest administration official sentenced in the probe.
J. Steven Griles, who was the department's deputy secretary, had pleaded guilty to obstructing a congressional investigation, and a federal judge said he continued to make excuses about his lies.
"Even now you continue to minimize and try to excuse your conduct," U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle told Griles before doubling the five-month person prison term he and prosecutors had agreed on.
Griles admitted to lying to Senate investigators about his relationship with Abramoff, the central figure in a corruption investigation that has led to convictions of a former congressman, legislative aides, lobbyists and officials in the Bush administration.
Griles had asked to be spared prison time. Under his plea deal with prosecutors, the Justice Department recommended he serve five months in prison and five months in a halfway house or under house arrest.
Huvelle seemed frustrated, however, as Griles and his attorneys tried to deflect blame for his inaccurate testimony. If lawmakers had only provided Griles with documents showing the extent of his relationship with Abramoff, defense attorneys said, his testimony would have been accurate.
"Do you really believe that?" Huvelle shot back. "You think it's the Senate's fault?"
With family and supporters holding hands in the front row of a packed courtroom, Griles choked up and wept as he asked for leniency.
Huvelle, who questioned prosecutors earlier in the afternoon about why they accepted the plea agreement with Griles, told the former official that his deal was "very favorable."
"The testimony you gave Congress was untrue," Huvelle said.