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Italia Federici, the one-time girlfriend of a convicted former senior official at the Interior Department, is a target of the ongoing federal influence-peddling investigation into the activities of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to court documents obtained by Legal Times. In a letter dated Jan. 19, the Justice Department informed Federici, founder of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, that she was a target of the federal probe. “The investigation is focused on the allegedly illegal manner in which you operated the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy,” wrote Stephanie Evans, a trial attorney in the department’s Tax Division. Federici co-founded CREA, a conservative-leaning environmental-advocacy group, in 1997 with Gale Norton, who became secretary of the Interior Department in 2001. Reached by phone this morning Federici said, “I’m running into a meeting, and I don’t really have time for your call. Thank you.” Federici was central to the charges against J. Steven Griles, the former deputy secretary of the Interior Department who pleaded guilty March 23 to misleading Senate investigators about his relationship with Abramoff, the infamous then-Greenberg Traurig lobbyist who pleaded guilty to several felonies last year. As part of a plea, Griles admitted that because of his romantic relationship with Federici, he “gave Abramoff more credibility as a lobbyist” and “distinguished him from other lobbyists.” According to the Jan. 19 target letter filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, investigators are looking at whether Federici violated five statutes in connection with running the group: conspiracy to defraud the United States, tax evasion, impeding the Internal Revenue Service, and obstructing proceedings and making false statements before the Senate. The letter makes no mention of Abramoff or Griles. Federal officials also informed Federici that they believe she “may have assisted others in depriving the American Public of honest services of at least one administration official,” the letter states. The letter advised Federici to seek an attorney and asked if she would be willing to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators. Whether she is currently cooperating or played a role in Griles’ plea is unknown. 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 today. E-mails released as part of the federal investigation show how Abramoff used Federici and her organization to push his tribal clients’ interests with Griles. Federici personally introduced Griles to Abramoff in March 2001, shortly before Griles’ Senate confirmation. Abramoff was also a major donor to CREA and directed his clients to donate a total of $500,000 between March 2001 and May 2003. Federici’s political connections stretch beyond Abramoff. In addition to running CREA, Federici worked closely with Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. In November 2005, Federici testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, where she downplayed her role helping Abramoff and Griles. “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’s financial situation appears shaky. During the start of the federal inquiries a few years ago, Federici hired Michael Scheininger at McKenna Long & Aldridge. But she recently switched counsel to Jonathan Rosen of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo. Rosen declined to comment on the case. After Federici received her target letter, she applied for representation by the Office of the Federal Public Defender. According to the financial affidavit she filed with the court, Federici received $10,000 from Margaret Alexander Parker, the GOP fund-raiser who passed away from complications of leukemia in December. Federici stated that her income fluctuates from month to month and that she has $3,000 in savings. The application was approved. So far, 10 people have faced charges as part of the Justice Department’s influence-peddling probe stemming from Abramoff’s conduct. In addition to Abramoff and Griles, other officials who have pleaded guilty include Roger Stillwell, former Mariana Islands desk officer at Interior; former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and his former chief of staff, Will Heaton; and one-time 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, was convicted on four charges of making false statements and obstructing justice stemming from his dealings with Abramoff.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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