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Friday, December 23, 2005

Lobbyist Nears Terms on Plea Deal

By Anne E. Kornblut
The New York Times

Thursday 22 December 2005

Abramoff may testify against "at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members."
Washington - Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under indictment for fraud in South Florida, is expected to complete a plea agreement in the Miami criminal case, setting the stage for him to become a crucial witness in a broad federal corruption investigation, people with direct knowledge of the case said.

One participant in the case said the deal could be made final as early as next week.

The terms of the plea deal have not been completed, and the negotiations are especially complicated because they involve prosecutors both in Miami and in Washington, where Mr. Abramoff is being investigated in a separate influence-peddling inquiry, participants said. Details of what he feels comfortable pleading guilty to are "probably largely worked out," the participant said, while the details of the prison sentence are less resolved.

Some of the details are still "in flux," said a participant who, like others interviewed, was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

"Anything can happen," the participant said, adding that the agreement could fall apart. Another person with detailed knowledge of the case said that while negotiations were continuing, the deal could take longer than another week to be settled.

But after a lengthy bargaining phase, Mr. Abramoff's lawyers and prosecutors in the Florida case appear closer to resolving several of the central issues in the plea deal, in which the defendant would receive a reduced prison sentence - most likely in the range of five to seven years, though that is fluid - in exchange for pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against his former associates.

Mr. Abramoff was indicted in Florida on Aug. 11 on charges stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats in 2000. Prosecutors said Mr. Abramoff and a business partner, Adam Kidan, falsified documents and lied about their financing in order to complete the purchase. Mr. Kidan pleaded guilty last week, leaving Mr. Abramoff to face six criminal counts and up to 30 years in prison as case's sole defendant.

At the same time, prosecutors in Washington have been sifting through evidence of what they believe is a corruption scheme involving at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members, many of whom worked closely on legislation with Mr. Abramoff and accepted gifts and favors from him. Although Mr. Abramoff is also in negotiations in that case, it is unclear whether a settlement can be reached in time for both agreements to be announced at once.

Michael Scanlon, a close business associate of Mr. Abramoff in Washington who also worked on the SunCruz casino boat deal, pleaded guilty in October in exchange for testifying in both inquiries. The case, being worked on by dozens of investigators as part of a multi-agency task force, has expanded in recent months to put senior Republican officials and prominent party lobbyists under immense scrutiny.

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