Friday, September 15, 2006
Representative Ney to Plead Guilty in Abramoff Case, People Say
By Kristin Jensen and Michael Forsythe
Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, will become the first lawmaker to plead guilty to charges in connection with the investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, people with knowledge of the probe said.
The U.S. Justice Department called a news conference for 10:30 a.m. in Washington to announce what it said was a development in a public corruption case. Phone calls and e-mails from Bloomberg News to Ney's office and his lawyer, William Lawler, weren't returned. Ney in the past denied wrongdoing in the case.
The plea agreement may include charges of conspiracy and making false statements, the New York Times reported.
Ney, 52, announced in August that he wouldn't seek re- election, citing the Abramoff probe and its effect on his family. Prosecutors have been building a case against Ney by getting Abramoff and three of the lobbyist's former colleagues to plead guilty to improperly influencing him. In court papers, the government alleged that Ney helped Abramoff clients in exchange for gifts such as a golf outing to Scotland.
Former Ney aide Neil Volz on May 8 pleaded guilty to violating lobbying rules and conspiring to corrupt public officials. Volz was Ney's chief of staff before going to work for Abramoff in 2002. Volz testified in court on May 30 that Ney routinely helped Abramoff's team.
``We had a champion in the Congress,'' Volz said of Ney during the criminal trial of former Abramoff colleague David Safavian. Champions, Volz said, were ``people that operate at a higher level. They can provide much better information -- inside information.''
Ney disclosed in November 2005 that he received a subpoena for documents from Justice Department investigators leading a federal task force examining Abramoff's activity. In January, the congressman gave up his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee, citing the ``distraction'' of the probe.
In leading the Administration Committee, Ney was a powerful figure in the House of Representatives. The panel's jurisdiction covers federal elections and day-to-day operations of the House, such as doling out coveted parking spots and playing a role in contracts awarded for work in the Capitol.
Ney drew national attention after his name surfaced in e- mails released by a Senate committee investigating Abramoff's work for American Indian tribes. On March 20, 2002, Abramoff wrote to his partner Michael Scanlon, ``Just met with Ney!!! We're f'ing gold!!! He's going to do Tigua.''
Abramoff was referring to language that Ney agreed to insert in federal legislation to allow an Abramoff client, the Tigua Indians of El Paso, Texas, to reopen a casino closed by state authorities. Six days later, Abramoff sent an e-mail to a tribal representative seeking $32,000 in campaign donations for Ney and his political action committees.
The Tigua provision didn't make it into the final measure, and Ney later said he was deceived by Abramoff. Ney's former spokesman, Brian Walsh, said in May that the lawmaker agreed to help Abramoff's team after being told that Senator Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, favored the measure.
Ney had also agreed to attach a provision that would help Abramoff obtain federal land for a school, according to Volz's May 30 testimony. When Abramoff's team didn't get the needed information in time, Ney suggested another piece of legislation as a vehicle for the language, Volz said.
Helpful to Abramoff
Ney had helped Abramoff before. In 2000, Ney placed two statements into the Congressional Record helpful to Abramoff's purchase of SunCruz Casino, a Florida casino ship company. Abramoff in January pleaded guilty to separate fraud charges in connection with that acquisition.
Ney's trip to Scotland with Abramoff has received the most attention. The 2002 outing also included Ney aides Will Heaton and Paul Vinovich, Christian activist Ralph Reed, lobbyist Volz and Safavian, at the time the chief of staff at the General Services Administration. Abramoff arranged for a private jet that cost more than $91,000 to take the group over to Scotland's famed St. Andrews golf course.
Safavian in June was found guilty of lying and obstructing justice in connection with Abramoff and the Scotland trip. The jury found Safavian guilty of hiding help he gave Abramoff with GSA properties when seeking permission to accept the outing from the lobbyist and then obstructing an inquiry into his actions.
In 2000, another congressman went on an Abramoff golf trip - - then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has become mired in the lobbying scandal as well. Former Abramoff associates Scanlon and Tony Rudy, who have also pleaded guilty, previously worked for DeLay, 59, a Republican from Texas.
DeLay has denied wrongdoing. He resigned from Congress on June 9 after saying he didn't want Republicans to lose his Texas seat in a campaign battle focused in part on Abramoff. DeLay had already given up his leadership post because of an indictment in a separate campaign fund-raising-abuse case.
Ney was the only member of Congress to accept donations from both Abramoff and Scanlon between 2001 and 2004. He took at least $61,225 in that period from Abramoff's associates and the lobbyist's tribal clients.
That's more than all but three of more than 170 members of Congress who received contributions from Abramoff's lobbying team and the tribes during that time, according to Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service records.