WASHINGTON (CN) – The first U.S. official convicted of covering up his connections with corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff is entitled to a new trial, the D.C. Circuit ruled. The court reversed and remanded David Safavian’s conviction on counts of concealing facts, lying and obstructing justice during an investigation of a golfing trip he took with Abramoff in August 2002.
As then-chief of staff of the General Services Administration, Safavian was responsible for acquiring and managing government property.
Safavian and Abramoff are former colleagues who continued their friendship after Safavian left Abramoff’s law firm to join the Bush administration.
Prosecutors claimed Safavian gave Abramoff insider information about two federally controlled properties that had piqued Abramoff’s interest. As discussions continued, Abramoff invited Safavian on a five-day golfing trip to Scotland, along with a handful of congressmen and congressional staff members.
Safavian received permission to accept Abramoff’s offer to pay for the charter flight, after Safavian told the ethics committee that he would pay for all other expenses.
In March 2003, the Office of Inspector General investigated the trip, but dropped the investigation after Safavian provided a copy of a $3,100 check he had given to Abramoff before they went to Scotland. He failed to mention that they spent the weekend in London or that Abramoff was interested in government-owned property.
Safavian received 18 months in prison for concealing material facts, lying and obstructing justice.
His convictions cannot stand, the court ruled, because he had no duty to disclose the fact that he was helping Abramoff with the properties. The lower court also erred in excluding expert testimony that would have bolstered Safavian’s defense.