Sunday, January 29, 2006

Official Tipped Abramoff on Client's Case, Filing Says

The New York Times
Official Tipped Abramoff on Client's Case, Filing Says

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 — Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the center of a widening influence-peddling investigation, used a contact in the federal government to give an early warning to Tyco International, one of his clients, that its subsidiaries were about to be suspended from doing business with the government, according to a court filing.

The document, filed Friday by federal prosecutors, asserts that David H. Safavian, the former chief of the General Services Administration who is under indictment, learned in November 2003 that four subsidiaries of Tyco were about to be suspended from obtaining government work. The filing, which was reported on Saturday by The Washington Post, said Mr. Safavian told Mr. Abramoff of the impending suspensions, along with some of the confidential discussions within his agency involving the issue.

These "internal deliberations" were the basis of suggestions made to Tyco by Mr. Abramoff about how company officials might argue against the suspension.

The information appears to be a result of the government's arrangement with Mr. Abramoff, who has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of his guilty plea to conspiracy and fraud charges.

Prosecutors included the information in a filing in the case against Mr. Safavian, who has been charged with making false statements to investigators about a 2002 golf trip to Scotland with Mr. Abramoff. They said it showed a fuller picture of his relationship with Mr. Abramoff.

Barbara Van Gelder, Mr. Safavian's lawyer, said in an interview on Saturday that the incident involving Tyco was irrelevant to the charges about the golfing trip, which occurred more than a year earlier. "This shows that Jack Abramoff is talking, and this is him trying to climb out of jail," Ms. Van Gelder said.

She said that there had been nothing illegal or improper about Mr. Safavian's conversations with Mr. Abramoff about Tyco, but that they were being used "as a nasty little trial tactic" by prosecutors to damage her client.

George Terwilliger III, a lawyer for Tyco, said company officials had first learned of the impending suspensions from Mr. Abramoff, who had represented them in another matter. But he said that the information had been unsolicited and that the government had been about to formally notify company officials in any event.

"Any benefit to Tyco was incremental at best, because company officials were due to get a formal notice from G.S.A.," Mr. Terwilliger said in an interview on Saturday. He said the officials had treated Mr. Abramoff's information like a rumor and had called the General Services Administration, which handles government contracts. Officials there said they were about to send a letter to inform the company of the impending suspensions, he said.

Mr. Terwilliger said the information that Mr. Abramoff had passed on as guidance about how to deal with the agency was regarded as irrelevant and was ignored. He said that after receiving confirmation of the impending suspensions, company officials turned the issue over to McKenna Long & Aldridge, "a recognized government contracts firm."

Mr. Terwilliger said the law firm had not used Mr. Abramoff's suggestions but had been able to persuade the agency to drop the planned suspensions, arguing that Tyco had changed its management team from one that had been involved in numerous violations of securities law.

Mr. Terwilliger said he had been assured by Justice Department officials that neither Tyco nor any of its officials were the subject of any investigation involving Mr. Safavian or Mr. Abramoff.

Philip Shenon contributed reporting for this article.