David Safavian, the only person who went to trial and was convicted by a jury as part of the Jack Abramoff investigation by the Justice Dept., will get a new trial.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered today that Safavian get a new trial on charges of lying to federal investigators and obstruction. The court also vacated Safavian's conviction on two charges.
No date has been set for the trial, but the appeals court decision is a setback for the Justice Department, which went to great lengths to investigate and prosecute the case. Safavian, former chief of staff at the General Services Administration, is the only person charged in the Abramoff case who refused a plea deal and went to trial.
Safavian was indicted in Oct. 2005 with five counts of lying to federal and Senate investigators over his ties to Abramoff and obstructing the probe into his involvement in Abramoff's efforts to acquire two federal properties, one of which is the Old Post Office Building in downtown Washington. The two men began secretly exchanging e-mails in early 2002 in which Safavian offered advice to Abramoff on how to proceed on the matter; GSA had control of both properties.
In August 2002, as Abramoff was moving forward with his plans, Safavian took part in a golf junket to Scotland with the now imprisoned Abramoff. Safavian sought clearance from the GSA ethics office before taking part in the trip, and he reimbursed Abramoff for the costs he incurred in taking part in the junket, but Safavian never disclosed to the ethics officials that Abramoff was interested in acquiring GSA property.
Safavian was convicted in June 2006 on four counts and later sentenced to 18 months in prison, but he moved to appeal the decision, arguing that District Judge Paul L. Friedman had erred in overseeing the trial.
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