House That Jack Built Comes Tumbling Down on Tuesday

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Federal prosecutors and lawyers for Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff are putting the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced as early as Tuesday, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The plea agreement would secure the lobbyist’s testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients.

Abramoff and a former partner were indicted in Miami in August on charges of conspiracy and fraud for allegedly lying about their assets to help secure financing to purchase a fleet of gambling boats.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post, in an extensive report on Saturday, revealed that The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay–and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization–was funded “almost entirely by corporations linked to Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.”

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check “from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money’s origins.

“Whatever the real motive for the contribution of $1 million — a sum not prohibited by law but extraordinary for a small, nonprofit group — the steady stream of corporate payments detailed on the donor list makes it clear that Abramoff’s long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.”

For the past two weeks, pressure has been intensifying on Abramoff to strike a deal with prosecutors since his former business partner, Adam Kidan, pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy in connection with the 2000 SunCruz deal.

Abramoff’s cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers and their staff members.

Requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, people said the lawyers spoke by phone with U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck, giving him an update on the plea negotiations. Huck scheduled another status conference for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The deal could be completed before then, the people said. Abramoff could sign the plea agreement and exchange it with prosecutors via fax over the weekend, they said.

Details of where Abramoff will enter his plea are still being worked out. Abramoff’s lawyers have indicated that they want the plea to be made in U.S. District Court in Washington, one of the people said.

If that happens, Abramoff would plead guilty to charges contained in what is known as a criminal information a filing made by a federal prosecutor with a defendant’s permission that bypasses action by a grand jury.

The lawyers could then apprise Huck about the plea and its effect on the case in Miami.

Abramoff and Kidan were indicted for allegedly concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they were putting their own money into the SunCruz deal. Two lenders agreed to provide $60 million in financing for the SunCruz purchase based on that false wire transfer, according to prosecutors.

For months, prosecutors in Washington have focused on whether Abramoff defrauded his Indian tribe clients of millions of dollars and used improper influence on members of Congress.

In a five-year span ending in early 2004, Indian tribes represented by the lobbyist contributed millions of dollars in casino income to congressional campaigns, often routing the money through political action committees for conservative members of Congress who opposed gambling.

Abramoff also provided trips, skybox fundraisers, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment and jobs for lawmakers’ relatives and aides.

Kidan and Abramoff bought SunCruz from Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis, who was slain in 2001 in a gangland-style hit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Investigators say Boulis and Kidan were fighting for control of SunCruz; Kidan has denied any involvement in Boulis’ death.

Three men were arrested in September on murder charges in Boulis’ killing and are awaiting trial.

Michael Scanlon, another former Abramoff associate, pleaded guilty in November in a separate case in Washington.

Scanlon said he helped Abramoff and Kidan buy SunCruz by persuading Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, to insert comments into the Congressional Record that were “calculated to pressure the then-owner to sell on terms favorable” to Abramoff and Kidan.

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