For the second time in three years, a jury has convicted David Safavian, the Bush administration's former top procurement official, of lying about his relationship with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
After a five-year federal investigation that spanned two trials and one successful appeal, Safavian was convicted on four counts relating to a golf trip he took with Abramoff in 2002. The former head of federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget was found guilty of obstructing an investigation by the General Services Administration, lying on a financial disclosure form, and two counts of making false statements. He was acquitted on a count of giving a false statement to a Senate committee.
Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Safavian reacted with muted disbelief to the verdict. After the jury was polled and the judged thanked them for their service, lawyers from both sides retreated to chambers to meet with the jurors. Safavian turned to hug his tearful wife, along with other family members and friends. They sat for almost an hour, arm in arm, looking stunned and exhausted, waiting for the attorneys to wrap up. They then briefly met with their counsel and departed. Safavian is free on bond until the sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.
Friends of the family declined to comment in detail on Friday with one saying, "We are all devastated."
Defense attorney Lawrence Robbins said Safavian and his legal team are "naturally disappointed but look forward to vindication in future proceedings."
Safavian's retrial was expected to last nine days but the defense unexpectedly rested its case on Tuesday without calling a single witness. Safavian decided against taking the stand in his own defense as he had in his first trial.
The defense's case hinged largely on Safavian's 2002 statement to a GSA ethics officer: Abramoff "did not have business with GSA."
While serving as chief of staff at the General Services Administration -- he was later promoted to the OMB position -- Safavian was invited by Abramoff to attend a golfing excursion to Scotland and London.
Prior to the trip, Safavian solicited the opinion of then-GSA General Counsel Raymond McKenna about the appropriateness of accepting free travel from Abramoff, a friend of several years. Safavian told McKenna that Abramoff "did not have business with GSA" and that he worked only on Capitol Hill.
But, in the weeks leading up to the trip, prosecutors said Abramoff lobbied Safavian for help in purchasing or developing two GSA properties. Prosecutors introduced dozens of e-mail messages between Safavian and Abramoff in which they discussed the two properties and Safavian appeared to offer assistance. Ultimately, neither property was sold, and they remain in GSA hands.
GSA ethics officer Eugenia Ellison later informed Safavian that he could safely accept the trip for free. Safavian, nonetheless, wrote a check to Abramoff for $3,100, a value which the lobbyist indicated would cover his portion of the trip.
Prosecutors argued, however, that Safavian knew that $3,100 was too low for his portion of the trip, which included $500 per night hotel rooms, a chartered flight and expensive meals.
The government called four former GSA officials as witnesses -- including former administrator Stephen Perry, McKenna and Ellison -- to buttress its argument that Abramoff's lobbying of Safavian constituted "doing business with the GSA," but each witness agreed with the defense that the common definition at GSA of "doing business" was having a contract with the agency.
The prosecution also called Will Heaton and Neil Volz to testify about the Scotland trip. Both men were staffers to former Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney in 2002 and had accompanied the congressman on the infamous golfing excursion. Heaton, Volz and Ney all pleaded guilty for their roles in Abramoff's schemes.
Jury deliberations were supposed to begin on Wednesday, but defense attorneys complained that the government during its closing arguments on Tuesday had misrepresented a 2005 conversation between Safavian and an FBI agent.
Rather than allowing the jury to begin deliberating, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman provided Safavian's attorneys with another opportunity on Wednesday to augment their closing statement and to rebut details about the FBI conversation. The prosecution was also given five minutes for a final statement and the case finally went to the jury on Wednesday afternoon.