Canton Repository

June 2, 2006

Ties with Abramoff not explained, claims Senate investigator

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - A Senate investigator testified Thursday that former Bush administration official David Safavian did not tell him the whole story about his relationship with a convicted lobbyist.

The testimony came as federal prosecutors rested their case in the first trial arising from a wide-ranging corruption probe that also has focused on Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath. Ney took part in a related, lavish golf trip to Scotland but has denied wrongdoing.

“My jaw kind of hit the floor,” said Bryan Parker, a Senate investigator, describing his reaction when he reviewed e-mails that showed Safavian was providing information to Jack Abramoff as the now-convicted lobbyist was seeking to acquire land from the General Services Administration.

Safavian, a longtime friend of Abramoff’s, was chief of staff to GSA Administrator Stephen Perry of Canton when Abramoff was seeking control of government property in Maryland and Washington, D.C., for a school and luxury hotel. The GSA had authority over the property.

The testimony came during the sixth day of a jury trial in which Safavian is fighting charges that he lied to ethics officers and investigators about his dealings with Abramoff and participation in an Abramoff-sponsored golf trip to Scotland.

Prosecutors have shown that Safavian helped Abramoff obtain information about the land and how it might be acquired. The pair exchanged numerous e-mails and Safavian set up a meeting between Abramoff’s associates and an official at the federal procurement agency.

Under questioning from federal prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds, Parker said that when he interviewed Safavian as part of a Senate probe into Abramoff’s fraudulent dealings with Indian tribes, Safavian never mentioned that Abramoff was doing business or seeking to do business with the agency.

Safavian was among eight people, including Ney, who joined Abramoff in the August 2002 golf trip. Federal prosecutors allege the trip was among the bribes that Abramoff offered to lawmakers and other government officials as part of his scheme to win favorable treatment for his clients.

Ney insists that Abramoff misled him about the trip. He has said Abramoff portrayed the event as an opportunity to meet members of the Scottish Parliament and raise funds for charity, and that the trip was funded by a policy group.

Safavian, 38, secured an ethics opinion from the GSA allowing him to accept the trip as a gift from a friend. But the ethics officer who wrote the opinion and other GSA officials said they would have reacted differently had Safavian told them of Abramoff’s interest in GSA land and his correspondence with Safavian.

As she prepared to open her defense of Safavian on Thursday, attorney Barbara Van Gelder argued that while Abramoff was seeking to acquire land from GSA, he was not doing business with the agency because the property was not yet available.

Anthony Anikeeff, an lawyer who specializes in government contracting, testified that the GSA encourages individuals and companies that want to do business with the federal government to seek information from the agency.

He added that it’s not unusual for agency officials to meet with prospective bidders.

“It’s often welcomed both by contractors and the GSA so both sides can understand the process better,” he said.

But he did not address whether it was unusual for agency officials to go on trips with potential bidders.

When the trial resumes today, the defense said it will call two of Safavian’s friends to the witness stand. Attorneys did not identify the friends.

The defense decided against calling several witnesses who would have refused to testify, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. They included Ney aides Will Heaton and Paul Vinovich, who also went on the Scotland trip and are under investigation.

Van Gelder said it would have been unfair to subject them to government questioning. She added that the effort to compel them to testify would have created a “sideshow” and prolonged the trial.