WASHINGTON – James Steven Griles, the former Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI), has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for obstructing the U.S. Senate’s investigation into the corruption allegations surrounding former Washington lobbyist Jack A. Abramoff, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division announced today.
Griles, 59, of Falls Church, Va., was also ordered to pay a fine of $30,000, and serve a term of three years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle for the District of Columbia.
On March 23, 2007, Griles pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information charging him with obstructing U.S. Senate Proceedings. In pleading guilty, Griles admitted that he knowingly and willfully lied and concealed material information from senators and Senate investigators about the unique relationship that he had with Abramoff immediately prior to and during his tenure as DOI Deputy Secretary.
According to documents filed with the court, between July 2001 and January 2005, Griles was the second highest-ranking official within DOI. Griles admitted to knowingly and willfully obstructing the investigation of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which was looking into allegations of Abramoff’s undue influence and access at DOI. Specifically, Griles was interviewed by Senate investigators on Oct. 20, 2005, and then testified before members of the Senate committee during a Nov. 2, 2005, public hearing. The Senate committee was investigating, among other things, the level of access Abramoff had to Griles while serving as DOI deputy secretary. Griles admitted that during both his interview and his hearing testimony, he made materially false and fictitious declarations to, and withheld material information from, senators and Senate investigators in response to questions about the true nature and extent of his relationship with Italia Federici—the person who introduced Abramoff to Griles; how and why his relationship with Abramoff developed; and the nature of Abramoff’s access to him. In short, Griles now admits that Abramoff developed instant and then continued unique access to him directly as well as indirectly through Federici, a person with whom Griles had a close, personal relationship.
According to court documents, Abramoff initially gained access to Griles through Italia Federici, the founder and President of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), a purported tax-exempt organization for which Griles had actively assisted in raising funds before he became DOI Deputy Secretary. Federici introduced Abramoff to Griles in early-March 2001, just before Griles was nominated to be DOI Deputy Secretary. Thereafter, both before and during Griles’ DOI tenure, Abramoff sought and received – directly and through Federici – Griles’ advice and intervention on various matters within the jurisdiction of DOI that directly affected Abramoff and his clients. On June 8, 2007, Federici pleaded guilty to a two-count criminal information charging her with tax evasion and obstruction of U.S. Senate proceedings – the same congressional inquiry at issue in this prosecution – relating to her extensive dealings with Abramoff and Griles and serving as their conduit. Federici, who is cooperating in this ongoing criminal investigation, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 16, 2007.
Court documents further reveal that Griles asked Abramoff for return favors. Notable among them was the defendant’s pre-confirmation request that Abramoff raise $100,000 in funds for CREA. Ultimately, Abramoff personally and through his Native American tribal clients donated a total of $500,000 to CREA between March 2001 and May 2003.
Griles admitted that he knowingly and willfully made material false and misleading statements when he testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Nov. 2, 2005. Specifically, he testified that “Mr. Abramoff is no different than any other lobbyist” and that, “there was no special relationship for Mr. Abramoff in my office. It never did exist.” Griles admitted that his false and misleading statements had the effect of influencing the committee’s findings. The committee concluded in a report that “given the paucity of evidence in the committee’s possession, the committee is unable to arrive at any definitive conclusions as to the veracity of Griles’ testimony on his relationship, and interaction, with Abramoff during all times relevant.” This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Armando O. Bonilla and Kartik K. Raman of the Public Integrity Section, which is headed by Chief William M. Welch, II. The case is being investigated by a task force of federal agents including special agents of the DOI Office of the Inspector General and the FBI.
Abramoff is currently serving a 70-month prison sentence for his guilty plea on conspiracy and fraud charges brought in Miami. Abramoff also has pleaded guilty to corruption, fraud, conspiracy and tax charges in the District of Columbia. The Justice Department’s Abramoff investigation has netted a total of 12 convictions thus far, including that of former U.S. Rep. Robert W. Ney on conspiracy and false statement charges.