Abramoff allies urge lenient sentence


WASHINGTON -- Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff still has connections in the capital - more than 250 of them to be precise - including prominent lawyers, religious leaders and a member of Congress.

In letters to U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck, they are urging leniency when Abramoff is sentenced tomorrow in a Miami fraud case, saying that the picture of Abramoff that has emerged through the news media is a gross distortion and that he deserves a break.

Far from his depiction as a greedy lobbyist who stole from Indian tribes, defrauded the Internal Revenue Service and tried to bribe public officials, they say, Abramoff is a man of charity and good works. In their letters, they note his generosity, religious faith and devotion to his family.

Abramoff boarded underprivileged children in his home and opened a kosher delicatessen in Washington "so that Jews would have a place where they could dine in comfort," they said.

The sole member of Congress willing to write on Abramoff's behalf is a longtime friend, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach, Calif.

"I think when he is being punished for the things he did that were wrong, some of the things that he did that were right and admirable in the past should be taken into consideration," Rohrabacher said in an interview. "I think that balance is necessary for justice. I think even Jack Abramoff deserves that."

In his letter to the judge, Rohrabacher described "a far different Jack than the profit-seeking megalomaniac portrayed in the press."

"Jack was a selfless patriot for most of the time I knew him," the congressman wrote, recalling his friend as an ardent anti-Communist during the Cold War.

Rohrabacher said he was concerned that an inordinately stiff sentence might prevent Abramoff from starting a new life with his wife and children.

Abramoff, 47, pleaded guilty in January to charges that, with a business partner, he fraudulently obtained $60 million in loans to buy a Miami-based line of casino-gambling cruise ships. As part of a deal with prosecutors, he agreed to a sentence of 70 to 87 months in prison. Abramoff's supporters are urging Huck to impose a term at the lower end of that range.

The Florida deal is separate from a plea agreement in Washington in which Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion related to dealings with members of Congress. No date has been set for his sentencing in that case.

The sentences in the two cases are to run concurrently and could be further reduced because Abramoff is cooperating in an investigation examining official misconduct by several members of Congress.

The outpouring of support in the Miami case is an attempt to counter an onslaught of media reports and late-night television barbs that his lawyers say have turned Abramoff into a "caricature" and "distorted a lifetime of accomplishments beyond recognition."

"As large a figure as he has been painted in the media," the lawyers said, "he is an even larger figure in matters of family, faith, generosity and remorse."

In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, the lawyers asserted that in some years, Abramoff gave away as much as 80 percent of his income and that his munificence left him with no significant assets beyond his home and its contents.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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