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Abramoff gets 4-year prison term

Prosecutors sought a lighter sentence for the lobbyist, who called himself "a broken man."

WASHINGTON - Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful lobbyist at the heart of a far-reaching political corruption scandal, was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison by a judge who said the case had shattered the public's confidence in government.

Abramoff, 49, who fought back tears as he declared himself a "broken man," appeared crestfallen as the judge handed down a sentence longer than prosecutors had sought.

Over the last three years, Abramoff has come to symbolize corruption and the secret deals cut between lobbyists and politicians in back rooms or on private jets.

The scandal shook Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Capitol Hill and contributed to the Republicans' loss of Congress in 2006.

At his sentencing before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, Abramoff said: "I'm not the same man who happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political and business corruption."

He added later, "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 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 case.

With his 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 Abramoff's cooperation, prosecutors said little in court while urging leniency.

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell portrayed Abramoff as conflicted. Yes, he corrupted politicians with golf junkets and expensive meals. But he also donated millions 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 yesterday, he also has spent his time in prison cooperating with a book that portrays him as a victim of Washington politics.

The forthcoming book, 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.

The Perfect Villain: John McCain and the Demonization of Lobbyist Jack Abramoff

, by 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 yesterday. Abramoff wept as his attorney discussed his family's suffering, and he seemed shocked when Huvelle handed down her sentence.

She could have sent him to prison for 11 years, but she showed leniency because of his work with the FBI. She rejected proposals to reduce the sentence further by giving Abramoff credit for the time he has spent in prison on a fraudulent casino deal in Florida.