Lobbyist gets minimum in fraud case

Abramoff sentenced to nearly six years in prison

? Assuring the judge he is working to become “a new man,” disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for committing fraud in the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.

He will remain free while helping prosecutors with a vast bribery investigation involving members of Congress.

Abramoff, 47, and former business partner Adam Kidan, 41, received the minimum under federal guidelines: five years and 10 months.

The two pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy and fraud for concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they were contributing their own money toward the purchase of the $147.5 million SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet. Based on that fraudulent transfer, lenders provided the pair with $60 million in financing.

Abramoff told U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck that he had started “the process of becoming a new man.”

“I am much chastened and profoundly remorseful,” Abramoff said. “I can only hope that the almighty and those whom I have wronged will forgive me my trespasses.”

He and Kidan were also ordered to pay restitution of more than $21 million. Both must serve three years’ probation after they get out of prison.

In an artist's rendering, U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck, left, presides over the sentencing of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in the SunCruz fraud case at the federal courthouse in Miami. Abramoff and former business partner Adam Kidan pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and fraud charges stemming from their 47.5 million purchase of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in the SunCruz fraud in January. The same week, he pleaded guilty in Washington to defrauding Indian tribes and other lobbying clients out of millions of dollars. He also agreed to cooperate in a corruption probe that could involve up to 20 members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, of Texas. No date has been set for his sentencing in that case.

Hours after the sentencing, the Senate voted 90-8 to bar its members from accepting gifts or meals from lobbyists, and to require lobbyists to reveal more information about their contacts with lawmakers. Critics are seeking deeper changes, including a ban on privately funded travel and the creation of an independent office to investigate possible ethics violations by senators.

The House has yet to take up similar legislation, but House and Senate leaders have made lobbying and ethics reform a priority in light of the Abramoff scandal and the recent bribery conviction of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.