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Lobbyist admits he gave Ney bribes
Jack Torry and Jonathan Riskind
January 4, 2006

WASHINGTON — Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges including efforts to bribe Rep. Bob Ney and his staff members with a golfing trip to Scotland, tickets to sporting events and campaign contributions in return for Ney helping Abramoff's clients.

Appearing in a federal court, Abramoff promised to help federal prosecutors in their wide-ranging corruption investigation on Capitol Hill, which includes an investigation into Ney, a Licking County Republican from Heath who leads the House Administration Committee.

"Government officials and government actions are not for sale," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said at a news conference, adding that the investigation remains active.

She said Abramoff went "far beyond lawful lobbying to the illegal practice of paying for official acts."

In scathing language, the Justice Department charged that Abramoff devised an elaborate scheme to "defraud and deprive" Ney's Ohio constituents of "the right to the honest services" of their congressman.

Those rights include the "conscientious, loyal, faithful, disinterested, unbiased service, to be performed free of deceit, undue influence, conflict of interest, self-enrichment, self-dealing, concealment, bribery, fraud and corruption."

Ney's name is never directly mentioned in documents filed by the Justice Department. Instead, prosecutors refer to him as Representative No. 1. But the facts made public by the agency make it clear that the documents refer to Ney.

Fisher would not say whether Representative 1 was Ney or whether Representative 1 was a target of the investigation or facing indictment.

But later, when asked whether there was enough evidence to charge Representative 1, a Justice Department official said, "See you at the next round." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

Yesterday's court filings include a new revelation by Abramoff that during a 2003 taxpayer-funded trip to Russia, Ney met with Abramoff clients and agreed to help one of their relatives obtain a visa to travel to the United States.

Abramoff also contradicts a key Ney defense of the Scotland visit. Ney has maintained that Abramoff told him the $100,000 trip would be financed by a nonprofit organization, which is legal under House rules. But Abramoff said he can testify that he told Ney before the trip that one of his clients would pay some of the bill.

Abramoff's testimony and lobbying records could nudge federal prosecutors closer to indicting Ney, a six-term member of the House originally from Belmont County. In addition, Adam Kidan and Michael Scanlon, two former business partners of Abramoff's, have pleaded guilty to federal charges and are expected to help prosecutors in the Ney investigation.

Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement that Ney "has never done anything illegal or improper, and the allegations" by Abramoff "do not change this fact. Whenever Congressman Ney took official action, he did so because of his understanding of the merits and facts of the situation and not because of any improper influence from Jack Abramoff or anybody else."

Walsh also gave a written statement by Ney saying, "At the time I dealt with Jack Abramoff, I obviously did not know, and had no way of knowing, the selfserving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff's activities."

Ohio Democrats yesterday called for Ney to step down from his committee chairmanship, comparing him to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who vacated his post as House majority leader when indicted as part of a Texas campaign-finance case. Unlike DeLay, however, Ney has not been indicted.

"Congressman DeLay has set the standard for indicted (lawmakers) by stepping aside; with an ethics cloud of prosecutors circling, Bob Ney should do the same," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said in a statement.

The Dispatch has learned that if Ney is indicted, Ohio Republican leaders will call on him to resign and not seek re-election this year.

Abramoff also could provide evidence against a number of other lawmakers, including De-Lay, who also had close ties to Abramoff. As a well-connected Washington lobbyist, he had many contacts with key legislators during the past decade.

He once owned a posh Washington restaurant that was a regular hangout for Republican staff members and lawmakers, including Ney.

The Justice Department papers suggest that Abramoff could provide key evidence against Neil Volz, a former Ney chief of staff. Abramoff helped Volz — identified by prosecutors only as Staffer B — obtain a lobbying job and has told prosecutors that Volz served as a regular contact with Ney. The revelation could increase pressure on Volz to make his own deal with prosecutors.

Volz referred The Dispatch to his attorney, who did not return a call or an e-mail request for comment.

Abramoff spoke in a clear voice and did not display emotion during yesterday's court appearance.

As U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle read the three charges, Abramoff replied, "I am guilty, your honor."

At the end of the hearing, Abramoff said that "Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret for all my actions and mistakes. I hope I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer."

Abramoff faces a prison term of up to 11 years and fines and restitution of at least $26.7 million. In addition, Abramoff is expected to plead guilty today to federal charges in Florida related to an effort by Abramoff and Kidan in 2000 to buy a fleet of gambling cruise ships for $147.5 million.

Abramoff, backed by testimony from Scanlon, has told prosecutors that he "provided a stream of things of value" to Ney and his staff, including regular meals at Abramoff's restaurant, campaign contributions to Ney and committees linked to him, tickets to sporting events, and a trip to Scotland in July 2002 to play golf at St. Andrews, a regular site of the British Open.

In exchange for those benefits, Abramoff has told prosecutors, Ney agreed to insert two statements in the Congressional Record in 2000 aimed at boosting Abramoff and Kidan's chances to buy the gambling boats. Abramoff said Ney agreed to help win passage of a bill that would have allowed a Texas tribe represented by Abramoff to reopen a gambling casino.

The reaction to Ney's possible involvement with Abramoff drew guarded reactions in downtown Newark yesterday.

Businessman Brett Lawrence, of Newark, said he has voted for Ney in the past and has tried to keep track of what is going on in Washington.

"I think it's difficult to know what to think, to know what to believe," Lawrence said. "Ney, unfortunately, is not the only (politician) under the microscope. . . . You shrug your shoulders and say I'm not surprised — not about him in particular, but that this is what politics have become."

Betty Baumgartner said her general opinion of Ney is that he has a good reputation. She isn't sure what will happen, adding, "I appreciate that they are looking into" possible corruption. Dispatch reporter Tom Sheehan contributed to this story.

jtorry@dispatch.com jriskind@dispatch.com