Former Bush official is sentenced to one year in prison

Safavian argued that his behavior was inappropriate, but not criminal. Safavian argued that his behavior was inappropriate, but not criminal. Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

David Safavian, the former head of federal procurement policy during the Bush administration, was sentenced on Friday to 12 months and one day in prison for lying about his dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He will be on supervised probation for 24 months after his release from prison.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, however, ruled that Safavian would not have to surrender to authorities until after his pregnant wife, Jennifer, gives birth. It is not clear when she is due to give birth.

Prosecutors had been asking for a prison sentence of 15 to 21 months.

Friedman appeared moved by the emotional speeches from David and Jennifer Safavian, in which the couple pleaded for mercy and urged the judge to consider the toll that the lengthy case -- which has spanned two trials and an appeal -- has had on their family, including their 6-year-old daughter.

"Please give our daughter and unborn child an opportunity to have a father in their life," Jennifer Safavian asked Friedman before the sentence was handed down.

David Safavian "begged for mercy" and said there was no chance he would ever make such a mistake again. "My situation is an abject lesson for everyone," Safavian said. "I am the poster child for staying away from the gray areas of ethics; how not to act and what not to say."

Safavian conceded multiple lapses of poor judgment, but he continued to argue that his behavior, while inappropriate, was not criminal.

Defense attorney Richard Sauber said his client had suffered more than enough already without enduring prison. Safavian is bankrupt, will lose his law license and never will be able to work or contract for the government again, he said.

But Friedman pointed out that Safavian had abused the public's trust and lied to investigators, and he needed to be punished. "At some point, a light bulb should have gone on," Friedman said.

Safavian, who also served as chief of staff at the General Services Administration, was convicted in December 2008 on four counts relating to an elaborate golf trip he took with Abramoff and several others in 2002. In the weeks leading up to the trip, prosecutors said Abramoff lobbied Safavian for help in purchasing or developing two GSA properties. Safavian was found guilty of obstructing a GSA investigation into the trip, providing false statements to a GSA ethics officer and to the FBI, and lying on a financial disclosure form about the trip's cost. He was acquitted of providing a false statement to a Senate committee.

The trial was the second for Safavian. He originally was convicted of five counts in June 2006 and Friedman later sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Safavian was allowed to stay free on bail pending his appeal.

In June 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed to vacate Safavian's conviction, throwing out two charges and granting a retrial on three others. The appeals court noted that Friedman should have allowed Safavian to call an expert witness and castigated federal attorneys for presenting "tenuous" legal arguments.

Months later, the Justice Department reindicted Safavian on three of the original counts and added two new charges.

The case dates back to 2002, when Safavian, then with GSA, was invited by Abramoff, a friend of several years, to attend a golfing excursion to Scotland and London. Safavian told a GSA ethics officer -- and later repeated the same statement to Senate investigators and to the FBI -- that Abramoff "did not have business with GSA" and that he worked only on Capitol Hill.

Abramoff was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of corruption, fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion.

On Thursday, the trial of another Abramoff associate, Kevin Ring, ended in a mistrial.

Safavian's attorneys have 10 days to decide whether to appeal the conviction. Safavian declined to comment after the sentencing, as did his attorneys.

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