More Guilty Pleas From Abramoff

Jack Abramoff, foreground, leaves Federal Court in Washington Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006. The once-powerful lobbyist pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors investigating influence peddling that has threatened powerful members of the U.S. Congress. At right is his attorney Abbe Lowell.
Once-powerful lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to conspiracy and wire fraud stemming from his 2000 purchase of a gambling boat fleet.

The plea by Abramoff, 46, before U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck came a day after Abramoff entered guilty pleas to three other federal charges as part of an agreement with prosecutors requiring him to cooperate in a broad corruption investigation into members of Congress.

Like a business partner did last month, Abramoff pleaded guilty Wednesday to concocting a false $23 million wire transfer making it appear the pair contributed a sizable stake of their own cash into the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz Casinos.

The plea agreement (.pdf) calls for a maximum sentence of just over seven years, but that sentence could be reduced if Abramoff cooperates fully and would run simultaneously with whatever sentence is imposed in the Washington corruption case. The remaining four counts in the Florida indictment will be dismissed.

"Guilty, your honor," Abramoff said, when Huck asked how he wanted to plead. Huck sent a tentative sentencing date of March 16.

Abramoff, wearing a dark double-breasted suit and tan baseball cap, avoided a crowd of reporters and camera crews after the hearing by ducking out a courthouse side door and getting into a waiting car along with his Washington lawyer, Abbe Lowell.

Abramoff has agreed to cooperate in a wide-ranging corruption probe that could involve at least a dozen members of Congress and aides, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told CBS News that the Abramoff scandal is the latest signal of how unhealthy and dysfunctional the

"Things were being done that are indefensible and where members and staff were engaged in things that I think you are going to find were clear and absolute violations of House rules," Gingrich said.

Wanting to avoid any link to Abramoff, the White House said Wednesday that President Bush's re-election campaign was donating $6,000 in contributions connected to the former lobbyist to charity.

The money will be donated to the American Heart Association, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign, earning the honorary title "pioneer" from the campaign. But the campaign is giving up only $6,000 directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes that he worked to win influence for in Washington.

DeLay also joined the growing list of officials shedding political donations from Abramoff, as did his successor as House majority leader, Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio; and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Abramoff's deal could spell trouble for some of Washington's top power brokers, reports CBS News national political correspondent Gloria Borger, but could

Lobbyist Vin Weber, once part of the House Repubican leadership, said it's up to the Republican majority to fix things — fast.

"Are they going to seize this issue and become the reformers of the lobbying system, or are they going to simply sit back and let it happen to them?" Weber asked. "In which case it could cost them the control of the House."

The deal comes after two years of intense federal investigation and months of negotiation with Abramoff's lawyers.

The full extent of the investigation is not yet known, but Justice Department officials said Tuesday they intended to make use of the trove of e-mails and other material in Abramoff's possession.

"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff is very extensive and we will continue to follow it wherever it leads," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal division.

The corruption Abramoff acknowledged was breathtaking in scope: bilking Indian tribes of more than $60 million, keeping nearly half of it in kickbacks.