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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ex-lobbyist Abramoff Gets Prison Sentence

Fraud in Florida casino deal fetches 6 years in federal prison

Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist at the center of a Washington corruption scandal, was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for fraud in the purchase of a Florida casino cruise line.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff and a former business partner to five years and 10 months in prison and ordered them to pay restitution of more than $21 million.

The sentences were the minimum under their plea agreement in the case.

Abramoff, 47, and Adam Kidan, 41, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud.

They won't start their sentences for at least 90 days so they can continue cooperating in a Washington corruption investigation and a Florida probe into the murder of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, owner of the SunCruz Casinos fleet they bought.

In court, Abramoff said the case was "incredibly painful" for himself, his family and his friends.

"In the past few years I have begun the process of becoming a new man," he said.

Wearing a dark suit and tan, baseball-style cap, Abramoff arrived at the courthouse several hours early, avoiding the media. He and his lawyers did not speak to reporters as they left the courthouse.

Before the hearing, more than 260 people -- including rabbis, military officers and even a professional hockey referee -- wrote letters on his behalf asking the federal judge for leniency.

The letters put a new spin on the foibles and crimes of a man who became the face of Washington's latest corruption scandal.

"Jack is a good person, who in his quest to be successful, lost sight of the rules," National Hockey League referee Dave Jackson wrote, describing the time Abramoff brought 14 youngsters to his dressing room before a game.

Kidan, in his own letter to the judge, said he knew the SunCruz deal was wrong but said he "was very caught up in the fast paced world of my partner and the high profile that came along with it." He added, "I am not the horrible person that the media has written about."

The two admitted concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they had made a large cash contribution to the $147.5 million SunCruz purchase. Based on that fake transfer, lenders provided the pair with $60 million in financing.

The same week Abramoff pleaded guilty to the SunCruz fraud, he entered guilty pleas to three federal charges as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe that could involve up to 20 members of Congress and aides, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican.

No sentencing date has been set in that case.

Abramoff and Kidan are expected to give statements in the investigation into the February 6, 2001, slaying of Boulis, who was gunned down at the wheel of his car amid a power struggle over the gambling fleet.

Meanwhile, three men face murder charges, including one who worked for Kidan as a consultant at SunCruz and who allegedly has ties to New York's Gambino crime family.

Both Abramoff and Kidan have repeatedly denied any role in or knowledge of the Boulis murder.

But prosecutors say Kidan has not been ruled out as a suspect and defense attorneys say Abramoff could provide critical inside information about the dispute with Boulis, who also founded the Miami Subs restaurant chain.

Ultimately, cooperation in those investigations could reduce Abramoff's and Kidan's sentences.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006; Posted: 4:21 p.m. EST (21:21 GMT)
MIAMI, Florida (AP) --