Times Reporter

June 3, 2006

Safavian takes stand in corruption trial

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – David H. Safavian took the stand in his own defense Friday, telling a jury in federal court that he never sought to conceal his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff or misrepresent the costs of a lavish golf trip to Scotland.

But under an aggressive cross examination from a federal prosecutor, the former Bush administration official conceded that he had little curiosity about the real value of the August 2002 junket, which he, Rep. Bob Ney and several others went on.

“I had nothing to hide about Jack Abramoff,” said Safavian, who at the time was serving as chief of staff to Stephen Perry, a Canton, Ohio, business executive who then ran the General Services Administration.

Prosecutors have charged Safavian with lying to investigators and obstructing justice in connection with using his position to provide assistance to Abramoff, who was seeking to acquire control of federal property for a Jewish school and hotel development.

Ney, R-Heath, also is under investigation as part of the wide-ranging probe of corruption that has led to the charges against Safavian as well as guilty pleas from several lobbyists.

The six-term lawmaker insists he did nothing illegal or unethical and will be vindicated in the end.

Testimony Friday also revealed that Safavian, at Abramoff's behest, invited Perry on the Scotland golf trip. Perry declined.

Safavian, 38, chose to testify in his own defense as the trial entered its seventh day.

Prosecutors allege Safavian lied when he said Abramoff, the sponsor of the trip, had no business before the GSA even though Abramoff was seeking to acquire land controlled by the agency.

“He was not a contractor exchanging goods or services with the agency for money,” Safavian told his defense attorney, Barbara Van Gelder. “And that's what I think is doing business with the agency.”

After initially seeking an ethics opinion that gave him the go-ahead to accept a free flight to Scotland from Abramoff, Safavian decided to pay what he said was his share of the costs of the St. Andrews golf trip.

Safavian wrote a check for $3,100 to Abramoff, which he said Abramoff told him was his share of the trip.

Prosecutors contend the total cost of the trip for the nine participants was about $140,000, meaning Safavian's portion would be much higher that what he reported.

The trip included a $91,465 chartered jet flight, stays in hotels costing $400 to $500 a night and rounds of golf that ran $400 per person, according to evidence introduced during the trial.

On Friday, prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg asked Safavian whether he was “at all curious” about the cost of flights between the United States and Scotland.

Safavian answered “no.”

“It never occurred to me to question Mr. Abramoff telling me $3,100” was his cost of the trip, Safavian added.

The trial resumes Monday with continued questioning from the prosecution.