Thursday, November 16, 2006

Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff goes to prison

Ex-lobbyist in corruption scandal goes to prison

CUMBERLAND, Maryland (Reuters) - Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, at the center of a political corruption scandal that contributed to the Republican loss of Congress in last week's elections, began serving his prison sentence on Wednesday.

The federal Bureau of Prisons said Abramoff, who has been cooperating in the government's influence-peddling investigation, arrived at about 6:30 a.m. (1130 GMT) at a minimum security federal prison camp in Cumberland, Maryland, 130 miles west of Washington.

The bureau said he is beginning to serve a sentence of five years and 10 months in prison handed down by a federal judge in Miami for fraud in the purchase of a Florida casino cruise line.

The Abramoff election-year scandal has reached into the White House and the Congress. Democrats in the mid-term elections were aided by voter anger over a series of congressional scandals, including the one involving Abramoff, a onetime Republican lobbyist.

Former Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio pleaded guilty last month to illegally accepting trips, meals, drinks, tickets to concerts and sporting events and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars in return for official acts performed on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.

Two former aides to ex-Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the former House majority leader, also have pleaded guilty. DeLay resigned in June while fighting unrelated campaign-finance charges in Texas and being dogged by questions about relations with Abramoff.

The scandal also has reached into the White House, with the conviction of former Bush administration official David Safavian and the resignation of Susan Ralston, an aide to top presidential political adviser Karl Rove.

In January, Abramoff pleaded guilty to separate charges in Washington of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in connection with his lobbying activities. He has yet to be sentenced on those charges while he cooperates with the government's investigation.

The plea deal provides a recommended prison sentence on those charges of nine years to 11 years and three months, to run at the same time as his sentence in the Florida case.

The prison camp in Maryland is a 334-bed facility. Prison officials said Abramoff would go through processing, which includes a medical screening and fingerprinting, and would be assigned a bed in the dormitory-style facility.