Times Reporter

January 20, 2007

'A significant and serious abuse of the public trust' - Former congressman Ney gets 30 months in prison

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Bob Ney, the ex-congressman from Heath convicted in a Capitol Hill corruption scandal, on Friday drew 30 months in prison for his felonies, three months longer than prosecutors sought.

U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle noted that Ney’s illegal conduct spanned several years and that he involved young members of his staff in his crimes.

“It wasn’t an isolated aberration,” she said, calling Ney’s actions “a significant and serious abuse of the public trust.”

Huvelle also fined the former six-term Republican lawmaker $6,000 and ordered two years of supervised release after completion of his sentence.

He is likely to serve the time at a federal minimum security prison in Morgantown, W.Va., where Huvelle recommended he be placed in a residential alcohol rehabilitation program. The prison is about 180 miles from Ney’s Ohio home.

The federal Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision where he will be incarcerated, likely in a matter of days, a federal prison official said.

Ney also must complete 200 hours of community service during his supervised release, as well as abstain from alcohol during that time, the judge ordered.

In a short statement, Ney said he took full responsibility for his crimes and apologized to family, friends and constituents.

“I – stand here today with deep regret, and I stand here sorrowful,” he said. Ney, who was divorced and remarried and has a son and daughter, added that he “caused tremendous heartache to each and every one of” his family members.

Ney vowed to “battle the demons of addiction which are within me.” Huvelle said it was clear Ney has an alcohol problem, but she added, “I don’t think that actually explains everything.”

The judge said it was obvious from letters submitted on Ney’s behalf that he had “done good deeds on behalf of your constituents.” She added she was “baffled” by “what went wrong.”

Prosecutors had recommended a 27-month sentence under a plea agreement with Ney.

Ney appeared to be at ease throughout the proceedings. Entering the courtroom, he walked up and shook hands with one of the FBI agents who played a key role in the investigation.

Later, he exchanged laughter and smiles with several former congressional aides and friends who accompanied him to the courthouse.

After the sentence was handed down, he ignored a group of reporters who asked him questions as he hustled out of the courthouse into a waiting limousine.

Ney, 53, pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and making false statements in connection with a bribery and fraud scheme masterminded by convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is in prison.

He admitted accepting thousands of dollars in free meals, drinks, trips, tickets to entertainment and sporting events and other gifts. In return, he used his official position to do favors for lobbyists and their clients.

Ney is the first lawmaker convicted in the ongoing federal probe of corruption on Capitol Hill. Seven other lobbyists or government officials, including a former Ney chief of staff, have been convicted as a result of the investigation.

The scandal contributed to the loss of Republican control of the House in the November election.

Ney’s seat was won by Democrat Zack Space of Dover, who emphasized Ney’s ethics and legal troubles in his successful campaign to succeed Ney in the Republican-leaning 18th House District.

After pleading guilty last year, Ney partially blamed his behavior on alcoholism and checked into a treatment program.

Siding with federal prosecutors in a dispute over whether Ney deserved a sentencing enhancement, Huvelle concluded that his criminal activity involved five or more participants, requiring a tougher sentence.

Ney will collect a congressional pension estimated at $29,000, despite the conviction. Although the Senate has passed a bill denying government pensions to convicted lawmakers and the House is expected to follow suit, the legislation is not retroactive.

Ney could get time taken off his sentence for good behavior in prison.

Under Bureau of Prisons rules, up to 54 days per year could be taken off his sentence if he avoids violations while incarcerated.

“Today is obviously a very sad day for Mr. Ney and his family, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” Space said in a statement.

“This episode should also serve as a lesson that all legislators should learn from. We have, simply put, an imperative to restore the faith of the American people in their elected officials.”

The 18th House District includes Carroll, Coshocton, Harrison, Holmes and Tuscarawas counties.