Florida court goes easy on Abramoff as congressional investigation goes on

MIAMI – Jack Abramoff will wear prison clothes for at least five years and 10 months, and they will perhaps suit him better than the trenchcoat-over-bulletproof-vest look he was cultivating when last photographed in Washington. The ensemble, shockingly obvious, underscores the gravity of the former Republican lobbyist and fund-raiser’s misdeeds, as well as the peril for others of his extensive cooperation with federal prosecutors.

On March 29, a U.S. District Court judge in Miami gave Abramoff the least prison time possible under sentencing guidelines for wire fraud and conspiracy in a $147.5 million casino-boat purchase in 2000, several years before The Washington Post brought Abramoff’s criminal deeds as a lobbyist to light. The Florida charges stem from misleading statements and fake documents in the boat-loan procurement process.

Specifically, Abramoff and a partner misled lenders into believing they had conveyed $23 million in cash to an account of the fleet’s former owner, one Gus Boulis. The cash payment to Boulis, phony as it turned out, was a condition of extending the balance of a $60 million loan. Boulis died gangland-style in 2001, slain by automatic-weapons fire from one car after his own had been blocked by a third. Three men have been arrested and charged with murder in the Boulis slaying. Their trial is pending. One of the accused men has asked a Canadian judge to subpoena Abramoff.

Prosecutors have not produced evidence linking Abramoff with the Boulis slaying, and he has denied any knowledge or involvement. The consensus view is that prosecutors brought the charges in Florida in part as a way to gain Abramoff’s assistance in an investigation of bribery on Capitol Hill.

For his lead role in orchestrating the use and misuse of between $66 million and $82 million in tribal fees and political contributions, Abramoff has pleaded guilty to the attempted corruption of public officials, among other things. Federal prosecutors praised his cooperation in the Washington case to the Miami court. They have suggested they’ll ask for less than the 30-year prison term possible on the Washington charges, contingent on Abramoff’s continuing cooperation.

The judge in Miami gave Abramoff 90 days to report for imprisonment, again citing the value of his cooperation to federal investigators.