WASHINGTON Jack Abramoff, the once powerful lobbyist at the heart of a far-reaching political corruption scandal, was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday by a judge who said the case had shattered the public's confidence in government.
Abramoff, who fought back tears as he declared himself a broken man, appeared crestfallen as the judge handed down a sentence lengthier than prosecutors had sought.
Over the past three years, Abramoff has come to symbolize corruption and the secret deals cut between lobbyists and politicians in back rooms or on golf courses or private jets. The scandal shook Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Capitol Hill and contributed to the Republicans' loss of Congress in 2006.
"I come before you as a broken man," Abramoff said at his sentencing before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. "I'm not the same man who happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political and business corruption."
He added later that, "My name is the butt of a joke, the source of a laugh and the title of a scandal."
Already two years into a prison term from a separate case in Florida, Abramoff, 49, will have spent about six years in prison by the time he is released, far longer than he and his attorneys expected for a man who became the key FBI witness in his own corruption case.
With Abramoff's help, the Justice Department has won corruption convictions against former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles and several top Capitol Hill aides.
Because of that cooperation, prosecutors were reserved in their comments to the court. Rather than regaling the court with a summary of the misdeeds and the seriousness of the corruption, the Justice Department said little while urging leniency.
Defense attorney Abbe Lowell portrayed Abramoff as a conflicted man. Yes, he corrupted politicians with golf junkets, expensive meals and luxury seats at sporting events. But he also donated millions of dollars to charity, and his good deeds were catalogued in hundreds of letters from friends.
"How can we be talking about the same person?" Lowell said. "But that's the record: A modern-day 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."'
Although Abramoff expressed remorse Thursday, he also has spent his time in prison cooperating with a book that portrays him much differently: as a victim of Washington politics.
The book, set for publication later this month and obtained by The Associated Press, says Abramoff was pressured to plead guilty. The book blames The Washington Post and Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee whose Senate committee investigated Abramoff, for making him the fall guy.
"I never expected that I would have to go to prison," Abramoff says in the book, "until it became clear that the media could not allow this play to close without the hanging of the villain."
In "The Perfect Villain: John McCain and the Demonization of Lobbyist Jack Abramoff," Boston journalist Gary Chafetz portrays Abramoff as an innocent man who excelled in an already corrupt system and was undone by biased prosecutors, reporters and political enemies.
McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
That theory was nowhere to be found in court Thursday. Wearing green prison pants and a brown T-shirt, Abramoff wept as his attorney discussed his family's suffering. He seemed shocked when Huvelle handed down her sentence, looking at his wife and children and shaking his head.
Huvelle could have sent Abramoff to prison for 11 years for conspiring to defraud the U.S., corrupting public officials and defrauding his clients, but she but showed leniency because of his work with the FBI. She rejected, however, proposals to reduce the sentence even further by giving Abramoff credit for the time he already has spent in prison on a fraudulent casino deal in Florida.
Abramoff could appeal the sentence because Justice Department infighting is partly responsible for the lengthy prison term. Prosecutors in Washington had hoped to combine the casino case and the corruption case into one plea deal. But Florida prosecutors refused to give up their piece, as did Washington prosecutors, so the deal was split in two.
Huvelle seemed perplexed by that decision, even as prosecutor Mary Butler asked her to treat the two cases as one. Neither Lowell nor the Justice Department spoke after court.