Abramoff Pleads Guilty in Washington
Update: Abramoff's lawyer Neal Sonnett told CNN Abramoff will plead guilty in the Florida case tomorrow. The charges there pertain to Abramoff and Adam Kidan allegedly falsifying a $23 million wire transfer in order to obtain a $60 million loan to purchase SunCruz Casinos, a fleet of offshore gambling boats.
Update: The Plea Agreement in the Washington case is now available here. (pdf)
Some quick notes: The agreement binds only the Public Integrity Section and Fraud Section of the Criminal Division and the Tax Division of the Department of Justice. It does not bind any other prosecutors or agencies. It does not bind the Civil Division of the IRS. Restitution to victims is set at $25 million. He will pay 1.7 million restitution to the Criminal Division of the IRS for his tax evasion, and this will be used to offset any civil tax liability for 2001 to 2003, but there is no promise that he won't owe them more. He cannot transfer assets to avoid paying restitution, but he does not need permission to use his assets for living expenses, business expenses or attorneys' fees.
His guidelines come out at level 31 (108 to 135 months), including his three point reduction for acceptance of responsibility. For his cooperation, he will receive an as yet unspecified reduction. The Government is recommending that any sentence in the D.C. case be concurrent with the sentence he receives in Florida.
Assuming his guidelines in Florida are not higher than those in the D.C. case, it looks like Abramoff got a great deal. A cooperation reduction of between 25 and 50% is not unusual. Doing the math, he could come out with a sentence between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 years if the Government went with a 50% reduction.(edited to reflect 3 point reduction included in guideline computation)
Update: Note, contrary to what some are reporting, there is as yet no plea agreement document on file in this case, only the charges, which again, are here (pdf). Thus, any sentencing concessions are not yet on record. He pleaded guilty to all of the counts filed and sentencing has been deferred. A status hearing is set for March.
The plea agreement should be forthcoming in the Florida case. It's not on the docket as of yet. (Miami may not have electronic filing....the Abramoff docket has not been updated since Dec. 30 as I write this at 12:00 MST.)
Update: Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to the information. Washington Post reports on the court proceeding. Raw Story reports that it was Michael Scanlon's ex-fiance who turned them in. Here's the e-mail trail,(pdf), via Crooks and Liars. CNN update on the plea has video.
Update: It's a done deal. Abramoff will plead guilty to charges in Miami and Washington.
Here is the Criminal Information (charges) (pdf) filed in Washington today. He will plead to three counts, conspiracy, tax evasion, and mail fraud (honest services.)
Original Post: 1:28 am
As I write this, there is no official confirmation that Jack Abramoff and the Justice Department have agreed on the final terms of a plea deal. Bloomberg and the Houston Chronicle report they are ever so close. By morning, I expect it will be a done deal. The deadline is this afternoon. But what took so long?
Reading between the lines: I think Abramoff and DOJ agreed last week on the counts Abramoff would plead to, the cooperation he would give and the general sentencing range, although not necessarily the specific amount he would have to do in jail. That's the easy part. The hard part is always in the details.
Abramoff is represented by two excellent defense lawyers, Abbe Lowell of Washington and Neal Sonnett of Miami. The case in Florida has a trial date of January 9, and the Judge has scheduled a hearing today at 3:30 to learn if there is a plea. If it's not done by then, they reportedly can tell the Judge he will have it by Wednedsay. But, it's coming.
I know both of these lawyers, and I'm sure, they are pressing for every last advantage, some of which take not only time but promises from those outside DOJ.
One of the most important details the defense will want is getting what is called a " global agreement" -- one that binds others outside the U.S. Attorney's office in Miami and Washington, particularly state authorities and other federal agencies involved in separate but related criminal investigations..
Abramoff doesn't want to make a plea deal with the feds, only to turn around and face similar charges in another federal or state court. I'm thinking Texas, but that's just a guess. Usually, prosecutors tell the defense they can't bind anyone outside their own office. But, that's not exactly true. If it wanted to, the U.S. Attorneys office could go to state prosecutors and get a promise either that the particular state won't prosecute the defendant, or if it does, any sentence would be run concurrently with the federal sentence.
In the event Abramoff and the Government do disagree about the sentencing guidelines, there can be a compromise paragraph in the plea agreement that says the Government believes the guideline range to be X while the defense believes it to be Y. They will agree to let the Court decide who is right.
Then there are issues of restitution and forfeiture. How much will Abramoff owe when he gets out of jail? When Enron's Rick Causey pleaded guilty last week, the plea agreement provided for a forfeiture of $1.2 million which included his restitution and fine-- no small feat by his defense lawyers. Abramoff's lawyers will want him to come out of jail with a chance for a fresh start. Dollar amounts for fines and restitution matter, particularly because Abramoff won't be able to bargain away any civil tax liability.
I'm sure this case is tricky because Abramoff is trying to resolve not only his criminal liability in the charged case in Florida, and as yet uncharged crimes in Washington, but also cases involving other jurisdictions where charges will be coming down the pike soon. But if both parties want the deal badly enough, as it appears these parties do, there's ways to work around almost everything.
If there is a plea deal, I'll try to get the actual plea agreement as soon as it's available on PACER and update then. If there's not, then it means the Government wouldn't accede to demands considered non-negotiable by Abramoff. In that event, more power to Abbe and Neal for sticking to their guns.
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