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Jack Abramoff: Sinner wants to be a saint

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 18, 2008 | 12:02 am

BoingBoing boosted traffic here Friday by linking to an old post I wrote about Jack Abramoff the high school bully. We now know Abramoff as the poster boy of lobbyist corruption and as the bodybuilding Orthodox Jew who will be lifting weights in a prison yard for the next four years.

He previously told The Jewish Journal that he wasn’t surprised when God called him to account for his sins:

“I had lost a sense of proportion and judgment. God sent me 1,000 hints that He didn’t want me to keep doing what I was doing. But I didn’t listen, so He set off a nuclear bomb.”

Now Abramoff claims he’s making t’shuvah, and just in time for Yom Kippur, on which returning to God is central, and his prison sentencing. The Forward reports:

Portraying himself as a broken man, and depicted by friends as having undergone a complete transformation, Abramoff appealed for leniency at his sentencing earlier this month. “I’m not the same man who happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political and business corruption,” he told Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who ignored the plea and sent him to prison for four more years — a harsher sentence than even that requested by the prosecution.

The sincerity of Abramoff’s remorse is hard to assess. Friends who have visited him in the Cumberland, Md., federal prison describe a man seeking humility, a man who believes he was punished by God for his wrongdoings. Critics view Abramoff’s makeover as yet another sophisticated maneuver from a man who has mastered political tactics and is now out to shorten his jail term.

Abramoff, 49, has been working in the chapel at Cumberland’s Federal Correctional Institution, where he began serving a sentence in November 2006. “I think it is his religion that helped him remain sane,” said Gary Chafetz, author of a new book on Abramoff.

While writing “The Perfect Villain: John McCain and the Demonization of Lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” Chafetz met with Abramoff in prison more than a dozen times. The meetings led the author and his subject to two different perspectives of the case: Chafetz sees it as a disingenuous attempt by the government, political rivals and some in the media to frame Abramoff, who was merely playing the Washington lobbying game; Abramoff, while cooperating with the author, describes himself as a person seeking to mend his ways and not blame others for his plight.

Despite what this photo may suggest about Abramoff’s killer fashion sense, I don’t think he’s going black hat on us.

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