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Abramoff, ruing 'nightmare,' begins six-year prison term

CUMBERLAND, Md. -- One time power broker Jack Abramoff lamented "this nightmare" political scandal that stretches from Congress to the White House and looked toward being with family and friends again someday as he entered a federal prison yesterday.

Abramoff, who parlayed campaign donations and expensive gifts into political influence, arrived at about 6:30 a.m. at a relatively secluded prison facility in western Maryland. He will serve a sentence of nearly six years for a fraudulent Florida business deal.

"This nightmare has gone on for almost three years so far and I expect we are not even half way through," Abramoff wrote in an e-mail to friends before dawn yesterday.

Still hanging over Abramoff is a public corruption case in Washington, where prosecutors are investigating Bush administration officials, federal lawmakers, and their aides. Abramoff pleaded guilty in that case and is helping prosecutors.

"Unfortunately, things are going to get worse (starting today no doubt) before they get better, but I am confident that ultimately the turmoil will subside and we will have our lives back," Abramoff wrote in his e-mail.

The e-mail, described by Abramoff as "My last e-mail for a while," was provided to the Associated Press by one of his correspondents, who asked to remain anonymous.

Abramoff, inmate number 27593-112, was delivered to prison out of the view of waiting reporters and camera crews. He will be held at a 334-bed minimum-security prison camp near an industrial park along the north branch of the Potomac River.

From prison, Abramoff will continue cooperating with the Justice Department, helping explain how he manipulated government decisions and who else was involved. The case has already led to the conviction of a former Bush administration official, David Safavian, and guilty pleas from a former US representativem Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, and several congressional aides.

The scandal also contributed to the Election Day defeat of Republicans nationwide.

Like all federal prisoners, Abramoff will be required to have a prison job. Unlike in his previous job, which involved chartering jets for exotic golf excursions and facilitating huge campaign donations, Abramoff will receive between 12 and 40 cents an hour. Stephen Finger, executive assistant at the prison, said new inmates typically start in menial jobs such as food service work.

The all-male prison camp, which is surrounded by Appalachian Mountain ridges, consists of cinderblock two-story dormitories, each containing six-bed cubicles.

In his e-mail, Abramoff said he would understand if friends couldn't visit him. He explained the 15-minute time limit on phone calls and said he wouldn't have access to e-mail, but hoped he'd have use of a typewriter.

He also noted that authorities could, and probably would, read his mail.

An Orthodox Jew, he did not spell out the word "God" in his e-mail, but told friends he would look for spiritual meaning in prison.

"I have learned more lessons in the past three years than I have my whole life, and I am hoping that my family and I can see the good in G-d's plan for us during these times, and gain strength from it," Abramoff wrote.

Federal prisons make arrangements for religious needs, including prayer services and kosher meals, prison officials said.

The Abramoff investigation has also ensnared Ney's former chief of staff and two aides to former House majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas. The case cost DeLay his leadership seat before he ultimately resigned, and it contributed to the Election Day defeat of Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana.

Safavian was sentenced in October to 18 months in prison for lying to investigators about his ties to Abramoff. He is asking a federal judge to postpone his sentence until he can appeal his conviction.

Burns, who received about $150,000 in Abramoff-related donations and whose aides traveled on the lobbyist's jet to the 2001 Super Bowl, has denied any wrongdoing. Though two of DeLay's aides have pleaded guilty, the former majority leader maintains his innocence and has not been charged.

Also under scrutiny are Representative John Doolittle, Republican of California, who accepted campaign money from Abramoff and used the lobbyist's luxury sports box for a fund-raiser without initially reporting it, and former deputy interior secretary Steven Griles, who senators and a former colleague said gave preferential treatment to Abramoff and his Indian tribe clients.

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