Abramoff was the key figure in a government corruption scandal that contributed to the Republican Party's nationwide defeat in last week's midterm election.
Abramoff arrived at about 6:30 a.m. EST at a relatively secluded prison facility in western Maryland to begin serving a nearly six-year prison sentence for a fraudulent deal to buy a fleet of casino ships in Florida.
Abramoff was delivered out of sight of waiting reporters and camera crews and his arrival was announced in a two-paragraph statement by a prison representative.
The part of the camp where Abramoff will be kept is a 334-bed minimum security facility located near an industrial park along the north branch of the Potomac River.
The camp is all male. It consists of a number of two-story dormitories that are light red cinderblock structures. Each dormitory contains a number of six-bed cubicles, and Abramoff was being assigned to one of those. The prison is nearly surrounded by Appalachian Mountain ridges rising along either bank of the Potomac on the Maryland and West Virginia sides of the river.
Stephen Finger, executive assistant at the prison, said all inmates work while there. Incoming inmates such as Abramoff typically are assigned to menial jobs such as food service work. Finer said that inmates can work their way up from low-level jobs paying 12 cents an hour to better positions paying up to 40 cents an hour.
Abramoff also is awaiting sentencing for corrupting government officials and their staff members. He made a name for himself on Capitol Hill by lavishing politicians with football tickets or whisking them away on faraway golf junkets, and thus became the face of government corruption.
If it were up to the Justice Department, however, Abramoff would not be heading to prison — at least not yet. He could hold the key to a sweeping corruption case involving Congress, members of the Bush administration and their aides, and prosecutors said putting their star witness behind bars would impede the investigation.
But a Miami federal judge refused to delay the sentence, meaning Abramoff's cooperation will have to continue from prison, where he will be inmate No. 27593-112. Abramoff's lawyers had no comment.
Abramoff was originally assigned to a federal prison in Pennsylvania about four hours away from Washington. Prosecutors wanted him assigned, instead, to the prison here, which is about two hours away.
Abramoff enjoyed access and influence across Capitol Hill, from his close ties to congressmen to his hundreds of contacts with White House officials. He kept his powerful friends flush with campaign cash, gifts and trips such as a $92,000 chartered jet to Scotland for a golf outing with Representative Bob Ney, Bush administration official David Safavian and congressional aides.
Ney, an Ohio Republican who recently resigned, became the first congressman convicted in the case when he admitted last month that he took official actions on behalf of Abramoff's lobbying clients in exchange for his gifts and campaign donations.
The investigation had already ensnared Ney's former chief of staff as well as two aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The investigation cost DeLay his leadership seat before he ultimately resigned, and it contributed to the Election Day defeat of Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana.
Safavian was sentenced in October to 18 months in prison for lying to investigators about his ties to Abramoff. He is asking a federal judge to postpone his sentence until he can appeal his conviction.
Burns, who received about $150,000 in Abramoff-related donations and whose aides traveled on the lobbyist's jet to the 2001 Super Bowl, has denied any wrongdoing. Though two of DeLay's aides have pleaded guilty, the former majority leader maintains his innocence and has not been charged.
Also under scrutiny are Representative John Doolittle, a California Republican, who accepted campaign money from Abramoff and used the lobbyist's luxury sports box for a fundraiser without initially reporting it, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, who senators and a former colleague said gave preferential treatment to Abramoff and his Indian tribe clients.