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Friends: Abramoff a changed man, deserves leniency

    WASHINGTON — It used to be, when Jack Abramoff needed something, he had an address book full of powerful Capitol Hill contacts to call on, people he plied with expensive meals, campaign contributions and golf junkets.
    Now that the disgraced lobbyist is asking people to stand by his side while he seeks a reduction in his prison sentence, the list of supporters has changed. The congressmen, Bush administration figures and aides have given way to family members, friends and religious leaders.
    Defense attorneys filed 95 letters in court Wednesday night as part of a bid to get Abramoff out of prison early. They describe him as a humbled, changed man whose family is suffering and nearly broke after his first 18 months in prison.
    In 2006, Abramoff began serving nearly six years for a fraudulent Florida casino deal. On top of that, he faces about 11 years in prison when he is sentenced on corruption charges next week in Washington.
    Prosecutors have asked for leniency because Abramoff became the key witness in his own scandal, helping convict lawmakers and Washington power brokers. The Justice Department asked that the Florida sentence be reduced to less than four years and the Washington sentence be five years and four months, with credit for his time in prison.
    That means Abramoff could be eligible for release sometime in 2011. Defense attorney Abbe Lowell is asking for even less time, a request that could make Abramoff eligible for release as early as 2009.
    Lowell sought to differentiate Abramoff, who has become a symbol of Washington’s lobbying excesses, from other corrupt figures in the news. Without naming them, Lowell describes Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who is accused of keeping bribe money in his freezer, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who is charged with lying about hundreds of thousands of dollars in home renovations and gifts from a contractor.
    Abramoff’s crimes stretched or ignored lobbying laws, Lowell said, but were not outright bribery.
    In prison, Abramoff has focused on studying Judaism and helping fellow inmates, friends said. He has taught classes entitled ‘‘Parenting from a Distance,’’ ‘‘Modern Marvels,’’ ‘‘Cinema Studies,’’ and ‘‘The Holocaust in Films,’’ his attorneys said. He is currently teaching a motion picture theory class.
    Abramoff’s cooperation helped send former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles to prison. In court documents, Lowell hinted that others may soon follow, saying Abramoff ‘‘assisted with the government’s investigation of scores of other persons who have not yet been charged.’’
    Abramoff’s sentencing Sept. 4 will be his first court appearance in years. Because nearly everyone in the corruption case has so far pleaded guilty rather than going to trial, Abramoff has not had to take the witness stand and tell his story.

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