Federal prosecutors and lawyers for lobbyist Jack Abramoff are putting
the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced early next week,
according to people familiar with the negotiations.
The plea agreement would secure the Republican lobbyist's testimony
against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients.
Abramoff and a former partner were indicted in Miami in August on charges of
conspiracy and fraud for allegedly lying about their assets to help secure financing
to purchase a fleet of gambling boats.
Pressure has been intensifying on Abramoff to strike a deal with prosecutors
since former partner Adam Kidan pleaded guilty earlier this month to fraud and
conspiracy in connection with the 2000 SunCruz boat deal.
Abramoff's cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation
of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases
against up to 20 lawmakers of both parties and their staff members.
The people, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the
talks, said the lawyers spoke by phone with U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck,
giving him an update on the plea negotiations.
Huck scheduled another status conference for Tuesday afternoon, but the deal
could be completed before then, the people said. Abramoff could sign the plea
agreement and exchange it with prosecutors via fax over the weekend, they said.
Details of where Abramoff will enter his plea are still being worked out. Abramoff's
lawyers have indicated that they want the plea to be made in U.S. District Court
in Washington, one person said.
If that happens, Abramoff would plead guilty to charges contained in a criminal
information _ a filing made by a federal prosecutor with a defendant's permission
that bypasses action by a grand jury.
The lawyers could then apprise Huck about the plea and its effect on the case
Abramoff and Kidan were charged with concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer
to make it appear they were putting their own money into the SunCruz deal. Two
lenders agreed to provide $60 million in financing for the purchase based on
that false wire transfer, according to prosecutors.
For months, prosecutors in Washington have focused on whether Abramoff defrauded
his Indian tribal clients of millions of dollars and used improper influence
on members of Congress.
In a five-year span ending in early 2004, tribes represented by the lobbyist
contributed millions of dollars in casino income to congressional campaigns,
often routing the money through political action committees for conservative
lawmakers who opposed gambling.
Abramoff also provided trips, sports skybox fundraisers, golf fees, frequent
meals, entertainment and jobs for lawmakers' relatives and aides.
Kidan and Abramoff bought SunCruz from Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis,
who was slain in 2001 in a gangland-style hit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Investigators
say Boulis and Kidan were fighting for control of SunCruz; Kidan has denied
any involvement in Boulis' death.
Three men were arrested in September on murder charges in Boulis' killing and
are awaiting trial.
Michael Scanlon, another former Abramoff associate, pleaded guilty in November
in a separate case in Washington.
Scanlon said he helped Abramoff and Kidan buy SunCruz by persuading Rep. Bob
Ney, R-Ohio, to insert comments into the Congressional Record that were "calculated
to pressure the then-owner to sell on terms favorable" to Abramoff and