The head of a conservative-leaning advocacy organization is expected to plead guilty to two felony charges as part of the ongoing federal influence-peddling investigation into the activities stemming from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to a document filed in federal court Wednesday.
Italia Federici, co-founder of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, is charged with obstructing Senate proceedings for obscuring the extent of her relationship with Abramoff and J. Steven Griles, former deputy secretary of the Interior Department, during hearings and interviews before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2005, according to an information document filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This is the same charge to which Griles pleaded guilty in March.
Federici is also charged with one count of tax evasion for failing to pay $77,243 in income tax she owed on $233,955 she earned from CREA between 2001 and 2003.
Federici's attorneys, Jonathan Rosen and Noam Fischman of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo said in a statement that their client "regrets her past trust and confidence in Jack Abramoff, a then highly regarded Washington lobbyist who professed a shared interest in Ms. Federici's environmental advocacy."
They added, "Such conduct is not only inconsistent with her own ideals and expectations, but also contradicts her years of public service in the not-for-profit community as a committed environmental advocate."
The charges against Federici are far more limited than the ones federal officials laid out in a target letter sent in January. At the time, investigators said they were looking at whether Federici violated five statutes in connection with running CREA: conspiracy to defraud the United States, tax evasion, impeding the Internal Revenue Service, and obstructing proceedings and making false statements before the Senate.
But Wednesday's charges include no allegations of misappropriation of funds for CREA or any quid pro quo action taken at the behest of Abramoff, the infamous then-Greenberg Traurig lobbyist who pleaded guilty to several felonies last year.
Federici started CREA in 1997 with then-Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton. CREA's Web site says it is committed to helping create a clean environment by "promoting fair, community-based solutions to environmental challenges, highlighting Republican environmental accomplishments and building on our Republican tradition of conservation." The group's phone and e-mail systems did not appear to be operational.
In 1998, Federici moved to Washington, D.C., with "substantial assistance" from Griles, then a lobbyist and Federici's boyfriend, according to court documents.
In 2001, shortly before Griles was confirmed by the Senate for his position at the Interior Department, Federici introduced Abramoff to Griles. Among the issues the three discussed at that meeting were "Abramoff's interests in [Department of Interior] issues, recommending colleagues for high-level DOI positions, and CREA's funding," according to the document filed Wednesday.
The meeting paid off: Between March 2001 and May 2003, Abramoff donated and directed his clients to donate a total of $500,000 to CREA -- more than two-thirds of the $723,500 in donations the organization received during that two-year period.
"Federici served as a conduit for information between Abramoff and Griles in order to foster Abramoff's and his client's interests," the document states. She would communicate "in-depth" with Abramoff and his clients as well as with Griles and forward Griles white papers and other information provided by Abramoff.
This relationship was also central to the guilty plea of Griles, who admitted that because of his romantic relationship with Federici, he "gave Abramoff more credibility as a lobbyist" and "distinguished him from other lobbyists."
But Federici tried to play down her relationships when she appeared before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in November 2005.
"It is disheartening to me to sit here and to have my good name and the name of my organization painted with the same broad brush that Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon and other folks involved with this matter have been painted," she told the committee.
Federici also had trouble maintaining a proper financial accounting system for CREA, which "failed to maintain proper financial books and records of its bank and business accounts," the document states.
Though the organization's vice president had primary responsibility for finances, Federici was told by an accountant that the group's books were not thorough. Yet the problems persisted, the document states.The vice president is not identified in court documents, but that individual is identified on CREA's Web site and the organization's tax filings as Jared Carpenter, who has not been charged in the probe.
Part of the problem was that the personal finances of the officers and the finances of the organization were not "properly segregated," the document states. For instance, instead of taking a regular salary, Federici would simply withdraw cash from CREA's bank account, the document states.
Federici is the 12th person to face charges as part of the Justice Department's influence-peddling probe arising from Abramoff's conduct. Aside from Abramoff and Griles, other officials who have pleaded guilty include the Interior Department's former Mariana Islands desk officer, Roger Stillwell; Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and his former chief of staff, Will Heaton; Mark Zachares, a former staffer for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska; and former Abramoff associates Michael Scanlon, Tony Rudy, Neil Volz and Adam Kidan. David Safavian, the former top procurement officer at the Office of Management and Budget, also was convicted on four charges of making false statements and obstructing justice stemming from his dealings with Abramoff.