Abramoff Scandal: Big Fish Go Free, While Little Fish are Caught

April 7, 2011

U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle has presided over many of the Abramoff-related trials, sentencing many former congressional staff members to prison, probation or both.  Today she voiced what many of us have expressed --the fact that so many staffers were charged, while their elected bosses avoided prosecution.

The judge denied the prosecutors' request to sentence former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) aide John Albaugh to two years in prison for his role in assisting Abramoff clients in exchange for campaign donations.  Albaugh was sentenced to only 5 years of probation and 4 months in a Colorado halfway house.  He was charged with conspiracy.

Albaugh's indictment indicates that he accepted concert and sporting event tickets and dinners at Abramoff's Signatures restaurant from lobbyist Kevin Ring in exchange for pushing legislation that was favorable to  Abramoff clients.

Albaugh appeared to take responsibility for his crimes. The Washington Post stated:
Albaugh told Huvelle it pains him deeply to think about the “corrupt” methods he used to try to help Istook’s career ambitions. He said Istook told him he wanted to run for the Senate and they discussed how they would need to raise a lot of money for such a bid. Albaugh said lobbyists were an obvious source of funding and that the Abramoff team was particularly aggressive, raising tens of thousands of dollars and using the firm’s luxury boxes to host fundraisers for Istook.
The judge stated that she was concerned with the staffers being prosecuted while the members of Congress who benefitted from the corrupt schemes walked away. Istook, like many other former and current members Congress, was under investigation for his role in the Abramoff corruption scandal, but was never indicted.

"There are three or four congressmen out there that will never see the light of day for actions, and we’re blaming the staffers," Huvelle said. "The people that really benefited from this scheme, with one exception, aren’t the people in front of me."

That one exception was former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) who actually was sentenced to jail time.

Former Reps. John Doolittle (R-CA), Tom DeLay (R-TX), Don Young (R-ALASKA)and J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), and  Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) were among those investigated, but never prosecuted. Other members were not even investigated.