Tuesday, January 03, 2006Houston Chronicle:
WASHINGTON - A plea agreement between prominent lobbyist Jack Abramoff and federal prosecutors is expected this week, bringing a wide-ranging corruption probe to the doors of Congress, according to sources close to the investigation.
Abramoff, who collected millions of dollars in controversial fees from Indian tribes with interests in the gambling industry, reached a tentative deal with prosecutors in a Washington-based investigation late last week, according to one of the sources. The lobbyist has given expensive gifts to several members of Congress, including Rep. Tom DeLay, of Sugar Land, and prosecutors are examining whether lawmakers improperly aided Abramoff clients in return.
Barring a last-minute snag, the terms of Abramoff's plea bargain were expected to be announced in Washington as early as Tuesdat or Wednesday. People close to the case spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Abramoff also was working toward a deal with prosecutors in South Florida on an indictment there that was to go to trial next Monday, according to a source. A federal judge in South Florida has a hearing set for today in the case. Abramoff was charged with fraud in connection with the takeover of a fleet of gambling ships.
By reaching an agreement with Abramoff, federal investigators would gain the ultimate insider witness in a probe into favors the one-time king of Washington lobbyists gave members of Congress and possibly their staff members.
The terms of the plea deals, and whether they will be formally announced separately or together, could not be determined Monday.
Attorneys for Abramoff could not be reached for comment Monday. An Abramoff spokesman repeatedly has declined to comment on the investigation.
Abramoff would join former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon as critical guides for federal prosecutors. Scanlon, a former Abramoff business partner, has pleaded guilty to charges of bilking the tribes.
DeLay attorney Richard Cullen declined to comment Monday. He has said previously that there was no indication the congressman is in jeopardy from the Abramoff investigation.
"Mr. DeLay is not concerned about the potential of Mr. Abramoff cooperating with the government," Cullen said in a recent interview. "Mr. DeLay thinks everybody should be cooperating (with investigators) and telling the truth."
Cullen said he met with federal prosecutors early in the probe and offered them DeLay's cooperation. Asked if any DeLay records or documents had been subpoenaed by investigators, Cullen said no records were sought.