David Safavian, convicted on Tuesday of lying to federal and Senate investigators and obstructing their investigation into his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, plans to ask a federal judge to vacate portions of the decision and then will most likely appeal the case, his attorney said.
Safavian was convicted on four of the five felony counts he’d been indicted on last October, including making false statements to investigators and obstructing the Justice Department probe of Abramoff. The jury found him not guilty of obstructing a parallel investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee into Abramoff’s business activities.
Senior Justice Department officials hailed the jury’s decision, which was announced Tuesday morning after five days of deliberation by the 10 women and two men on the panel.
“Today a jury found David Safavian, a former federal official, guilty of lying to Congress and [General Services Administration] investigators about his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, head of the criminal division, in a statement released by the department. “The message of this verdict is clear: in answering questions posed by Congress and by federal agencies, public officials have the same obligation as does the public for which they serve — to tell the truth. No one is above the law.”
Safavian’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 12, and under the complicated formula used by the federal courts in determining prison sentences for felony convictions, he faces up to 21 months behind bars, said Biz Van Gelder, his lawyer.
Before his sentence is handed down, however, Safavian will ask the presiding judge, District Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to vacate some portions of the decision, Van Gelder said. If that effort fails, Van Gelder plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Van Gelder believes that her client has several grounds for appeal, including the decision by Friedman to allow jurors to see hundreds of e-mail exchanges between Abramoff and Safavian. Those e-mails detailed Abramoff’s attempts in 2002 to gain control of the Old Post Office building in downtown Washington, D.C., which Abramoff wanted to turn into a luxury hotel. Another GSA property that Abramoff was seeking at that time would have been turned into a school.
Safavian was serving as GSA chief of staff at that time, and he secretly advised Abramoff how to acquire the two GSA properties. Safavian then took part in a luxury golf junket to Scotland in August 2002 that was paid for by Abramoff.
Other participants in that trip included Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio); Neil Volz, Ney’s former chief of staff; and Ralph Reed, the one-time Christian Coalition executive who is now running for lieutenant governor of Georgia. Both Abramoff and Volz have already pleaded guilty in the ongoing corruption probe, and Volz testified against Safavian during the trial.
Safavian sought an advisory opinion from the GSA ethics office before the Scotland trip, claiming that Abramoff was not “doing business” with GSA, despite the fact that Safavian knew Abramoff was trying to acquire the two GSA properties.