WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced on Thursday to serve four more years in prison in a corruption scandal that rocked Washington’s power elite and helped Republicans lose control of Congress.
Abramoff is already serving a nearly six-year term on unrelated charges and the new sentence will be served at the same time, meaning he will not spend any extra time behind bars once his original sentence ends in 2012.
But Abramoff will serve at least four more years in prison, even if his lawyers are successful in getting a reduction in his first sentence on charges of fraud in the purchase of a Florida casino cruise line. When his terms expire, he will have spent nearly six years in prison.
Judge Ellen Huvelle passed sentence after federal prosecutors recommended leniency due to Abramoff’s cooperation in pursuing corruption cases against lawmakers and former Bush administration officials. He faced a maximum of 11 years under a plea deal reached in 2006.
“I come before you today as a broken man,” a tearful Abramoff, wearing a brown T-shirt and khaki pants, told the judge before the sentence. He expressed deep regret for his actions, which he said had hurt his family and his clients.
“I’ve fallen into an abyss, your honor, and I don’t quite know how to get out,” he said.
“He did bad,” Abramoff’s lead attorney, Abbe Lowell, told the judge. “He did very bad, but not as bad as people think.”
The court heard from some members of Indian tribes represented by Abramoff and they urged the maximum sentence arguing that he defrauded them out of millions of dollars.
But a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in Michigan, Delores Jackson, told the judge that Abramoff had earned his lobbying fees by blocking competition from rival casinos.
Huvelle said because Abramoff, accused of trading expensive gifts in return for political favors, had cooperated with federal authorities, his sentence was significantly reduced from what guidelines suggested.
But she said his high-flying lobbying activities corrupted the political process and shook public confidence in government.
Abramoff was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison in March 2006 on fraud charges over the purchase of the Florida casino cruise line. He began serving the term in a federal prison in Maryland in November 2006.
In January 2006, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in the current case, but sentencing was delayed until Thursday.
Prosecutors recommended reduced punishment in the corruption case, noting that Abramoff had cooperated in probes that led to convictions of a congressman as well as some congressional and White House aides.
The scandal engulfed a number of Republicans and contributed to election defeats that led to the party’s loss of control of Congress to the Democrats in 2006.
Editing by David Alexander and John O'Callaghan