WASHINGTON – A federal judge chastised the Interior Department’s former No. 2 official and doubled his proposed prison term to 10 months Tuesday for lying to senators in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and making excuses about it in court.
J. Steven Griles was the department’s deputy secretary and is the highest administration official sentenced in the probe. He pleaded guilty to obstructing a congressional investigation, but on Tuesday his lawyers tried to deflect blame for his faulty testimony.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle was not pleased.
“Even now you continue to minimize and try to excuse your conduct,” she told Griles before doubling the five-month prison term he and prosecutors had agreed on.
With family and supporters holding hands in the front row of a packed courtroom, Griles choked up and wept as he asked for leniency. He apologized for not disclosing that his girlfriend, Italia Federici, had introduced him to Abramoff, giving the lobbyist greater credibility.
Huvelle interjected and pointedly told Griles that the Senate didn’t care about how he met Abramoff. The lie wasn’t about an introduction, she said. The lie was about repeated contact with Abramoff, about contributions the lobbyist made to Federici’s nonprofit group and about how much access Griles gave him, Huvelle said.
“You consistently mischaracterized the nature and extent of your dealings with Mr. Abramoff,” Huvelle said.