Canton Repository

June 13, 2006

Lawyers make their final pitch to Safavian jury


By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley Washington correspondent




WASHINGTON - Prosecutors and a defense attorney argued over former Bush administration official David Safavian’s credibility Monday as jurors heard closing statements in the first trial to emerge from a federal probe of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Safavian, the former chief of staff to then-General Services Administration head Stephen Perry of Canton, is charged with lying to authorities and obstructing justice in connection with his participation in a luxurious golf outing to Scotland sponsored by Abramoff.

“He chose to lie, he chose to conceal, he chose to mislead,” prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds alleged, reinforcing a theme that Justice Department attorneys hammered out during the previous eight days of the trial.

Safavian’s attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, maintained that her client did nothing wrong and fully cooperated with government officials and investigators who asked him about the golf trip.

“He is an innocent man who has been caught up in this Abramoff fever,” she said during the proceeding in U.S. District Court. “They’ve taken a hairline crack — and they’re trying to make it into a canyon.”

Safavian, 38, was among nine people who went on the August 2002 trip, which also included Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath; Ney’s former aide turned lobbyist Neil Volz, two other Ney congressional aides, former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and another lobbyist.

Ney is under investigation as part of the federal probe of fraud and corruption, but he insists he has not done anything wrong or illegal. Abramoff, Volz and several other former congressional aides and lobbyists have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors.

Prosecutors charge Safavian concealed his relationship with Abramoff while using his position at the GSA to provide information, assistance and other preferential treatment to Abramoff as the lobbyist sought control of two agency-administered properties. Safavian, who took the stand in his own defense earlier this month, acknowledged he helped Abramoff but denied that he was violating agency rules or breaking the law in doing so.

He testified that he would have revealed his relationship with Abramoff if investigators had asked.

Prosecutors have described the golf trip as a reward for Safavian’s help. Safavian wrote Abramoff a check for $3,100 to pay for his share of the trip, but prosecutors said that sum understated his true costs by at least $14,000.

Both the prosecution and defense sought to bolster their case by invoking Safavian’s former boss Perry, a business executive who now heads up the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Edmonds recalled that when Perry testified as the prosecution’s first witness, he “talked about moments of truth” when public officials have to make decisions with ethical implications. “Time and again Mr. Safavian failed in these moments of truth,” Edmonds said.

Later, in her closing statement, Van Gelder said Perry’s testimony did not hurt Safavian.

Instead of describing Safavian as “ambitious” and “working for two masters,” she said Perry praised her client as “hard working, very bright, very industrious.”

The jury planned to return to court Tuesday morning to begin deliberations.