Whatever his shortcomings, Jack Abramoff still has connections -- more than 250 of them, to be precise -- including prominent lawyers, religious leaders and even a member of Congress.
They are encouraging a federal judge to give the disgraced lobbyist a reduced sentence Wednesday in a Miami fraud case. They have written letters to U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck, saying that the picture of Abramoff that has emerged through the news media is a gross distortion, and that he deserves a break.
Far from the image of the greedy Beltway operator who stole from Indian tribes, defrauded the Internal Revenue Service and tried to bribe public officials, they say, Abramoff is a man of charity and good works. In their letters, they cite his generosity to others, his deep religious faith and his devotion to his family.
Abramoff boarded underprivileged children in his home, they said. He opened a kosher deli in Washington “so that Jews would have a place where they could dine in comfort.”
The sole member of Congress who wrote on Abramoff’s behalf is a longtime friend, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach.
“I think when he is being punished for the things he did that were wrong, some of the things that he did that were right and admirable in the past should be taken into consideration,” Rohrabacher said in an interview. “I think that balance is necessary for justice. I think even Jack Abramoff deserves that.”
In his letter to the judge, Rohrabacher described “a far different Jack than the profit-seeking megalomaniac portrayed in the press.”
“Jack was a selfless patriot for most of the time I knew him,” the congressman wrote, recalling his friend as an ardent anti-communist during the Cold War.
Rohrabacher said he was concerned that an inordinately stiff sentence might prevent Abramoff from eventually starting a new life with his wife and children.
Abramoff, 47, pleaded guilty in January to charges that, along with a business partner, he fraudulently obtained $60 million in loans to buy a line of casino cruise ships based in Miami. As part of a deal with prosecutors, he agreed to a sentence of from 70 to 87 months in prison. Abramoff’s supporters are urging Huck to set the punishment at the lower end of the range.
The Florida deal is separate from a plea agreement in Washington, where Abramoff has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and tax evasion related to dealings with members of Congress. No date has been set for his sentencing in that case.
The sentences in the two cases are to run concurrently and might be further reduced because Abramoff is cooperating in an investigation examining official misconduct by several members of Congress.
The outpouring of support in the Miami case is an attempt to counter an onslaught of media reports and late-night TV barbs that his lawyers say have turned Abramoff into a “caricature” and “distorted a lifetime of accomplishments beyond recognition.”
“As large a figure as he has been painted in the media,” the lawyers said, “he is an even larger figure in matters of family, faith, generosity and remorse.”
In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court in Miami, the lawyers asserted that in some years, Abramoff gave away as much as 80% of his income, and that his munificence left him with no real assets beyond his home and its contents.
“Now, Mr. Abramoff is broke,” the court filing noted. “He is tormented daily that his wife will not be able to support the large family on her own.”
The letters of support include handwritten appeals from his five children, along with letters from friends, associates and even strangers, describing how they had been recipients of random acts of kindness from Abramoff over the years.
In a letter to Huck, 16-year-old Alex Abramoff wrote, “I personally do not know a lot about you or your morals, but I know that if you were to take a look into how my father leads his life, you would see that he is not the kind of person that should be sent to prison.”
Abramoff’s 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, wrote how she burst into tears when actor George Clooney derided her father on the Golden Globes awards show this year.
The letters include stories of how Abramoff covered medical bills of a rabbi’s daughter who was seriously injured in a car accident and how he loaned a needy family the down payment for a home. On another occasion, he threw a wedding party for a friend’s daughter who was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
A former executive assistant to a partner at Greenberg Traurig, the law and lobbying firm where Abramoff worked, told Huck that Abramoff intervened on her behalf after she said she was being sexually harassed by her boss.
A top investigator on a Senate subcommittee vouched for Abramoff as “a caring, pious, and generous man who dotes on his friends and family.”
The trappings of wealth that he accumulated did not always work to the benefit of the rich and powerful, some letter-writers said.
Monty Warner, a GOP media strategist, said Abramoff gave away “hundreds of meals” at the Washington restaurant he owned, Signatures, to people seeking personal, rather than political, favors.
Dave Jackson, a National Hockey League referee, wrote that he befriended Abramoff after being impressed that the lobbyist had invited 14 children and a rabbi to his skybox for a hockey match.
Nathan Lewin, a Washington lawyer, said Abramoff should be credited for operating a kosher restaurant in Washington, Stacks, where observant Jews could have lunch or dinner. Lewin said Abramoff kept Stacks open “at great personal financial sacrifice just so that Jews would have a place where they could dine in comfort.”
At least one former client -- Benigno R. Fitial, governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands -- was among those who wrote. A former apparel industry executive, Fitial was instrumental in hiring Abramoff to stop Congress from enacting minimum-wage laws affecting island workers.
Labor activists said the moves led to abusive sweatshop conditions for workers. Fitial said Abramoff “championed our cause of democratic self-government and economic opportunity and self-sufficiency.”