Canton Repository

January 4, 2006

Abramoff plea puts pressure on Ney

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Rep. Bob Ney appears to be under increased peril of prosecution in a bribery and corruption scheme after onetime super lobbyist Jack Abramoff on Tuesday pleaded guilty to several felonies and offered new details implicating the Ohio Republican.

Abramoff has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in return for a deal that required him to plead guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion in connection with tens of millions of dollars in fees that he and a partner fraudulently collected from several Indian tribe clients. The deal spares Abramoff a lengthy and costly trial and the prospect of a harsh prison sentence.

ABRAMOFF PLEADS GUILTY

To each of the three charges, Abramoff said, “I plead guilty, your honor.” U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle and lawyers in the case said Abramoff had agreed to make an estimated $25 million in restitution to his victims and pay $1.7 million to the Internal Revenue Service for taxes he evaded.

According to the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 9 1/2 to 11 years, providing he cooperates with federal prosecutors.

Now, both Abramoff and public relations specialist Michael Scanlon, who pleaded guilty to related charges in November, have acknowledged to a judge that they offered a “stream of things of value” to Ney and other public officials, including a golf trip to Scotland, in exchange for official acts and influence.

NEY MAINTAINS INNOCENCE

Ney, R-Heath, continued to maintain he has done nothing wrong or illegal. “At the time I dealt with Jack Abramoff I obviously did not know and had no way of knowing the self-serving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff’s activities,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Brian Walsh, Ney’s spokesman, said whenever 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.”

No charges have been filed against Ney, who was subpoenaed last year to provide documents and testimony in the widening investigation.

In plea agreements signed by Abramoff and Scanlon, Ney is identified only as the “Representative No. 1” who performed legislative favors in exchange for tickets to concerts and sporting events, campaign contributions, free meals and other benefits.

During a news conference following Abramoff’s plea, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher declined to identify “Representative No. 1” or say when other charges might be brought in what she described as an aggressive, continuing investigation. Ney’s attorney Mark Tuohey has said that Ney was the unnamed lawmaker in the Scanlon plea agreement.

Some legal observers, noting that the case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s public integrity section, which focuses on corruption among public officials, see increasing risk for Ney.

“Whoever Congressman No. 1 is, I’d say, better get a toothbrush,” quipped Joe diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

“This is a very serious development in the Abramoff investigation,” diGenova said. “And it does mean now that the only way to go is up in the investigation. You don’t go down after this. The small fries are done with. Now you’ve got a big fry and the only thing that’s left are other big fries. So this is not a good development for whoever Congressman No. 1 is.”

ABRAMOFF TARGETS NEY

Abramoff’s plea agreement builds upon information first provided by Scanlon. When he pleaded guilty in November, Scanlon said he or Abramoff provided Ney or his staff with all-expense paid trips, including a golf junket to Scotland in 2002.

The pair also provided numerous tickets to concerts and sporting events, the use of box suites at sport and concert venues, campaign contributions, free meals at a restaurant previously owned by Abramoff, and free golf at Washington, D.C. area courses, according to the court documents.

Ney, in return, agreed to introduce legislation to benefit Abramoff’s tribal clients, placed statements in the Congressional Record to support Abramoff’s purchase of a Florida casino cruise line, and agreed to use his position to help an Abramoff client win a lucrative contract to provide wireless service at a House office complex, the plea agreements say.

Adding fresh details, Abramoff’s statement alleges that Ney agreed in approximately August 2001 to use his position as chairman of the House Administration Committee to “endorse and support” an Abramoff client as the provider of wireless telephone infrastructure to a House office complex.

Ney, who as chairman had the authority to choose the wireless provider, selected a company that today goes by the name MobileAccess Network but formerly was called Foxcom. Ney has denied there was any link between Abramoff’s representation of the firm and his selection.

In the plea agreement, Abramoff also alleges that he informed Ney that a Texas Indian tribe, the Tiguas of El Paso, was raising funds to pay for a golf outing to Scotland that Ney, several current or former members of his staff and others attended in August 2002.

At Abramoff’s request, the document says, the Tiguas sought help paying for the trip from another Texas Indian tribe, which sent a $50,000 check to Abramoff.

Ney has denied he had any knowledge that Indians paid for the trip, which he said he believed was a charitable endeavor financed by a research foundation, which subsequently denied funding it. Ney issued a statement saying he had been “duped” by Abramoff, as he said the Indian tribes and other lawmakers also were.

Abramoff’s plea also alleges that Ney offered help to a California Indian tribe that was a client of Abramoff’s in 2002. During an official trip to Russia in 2003, Ney sought to influence the process of obtaining a visa to travel to the United States for a relative of one of Abramoff’s clients, the document said.

A look at U.S. Rep Bob Ney:

NAME — Bob Ney.

BIRTH DATE — born July 5, 1954, in Wheeling, W.Va.

EDUCATION — Bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio State University in 1976.

EXPERIENCE — Taught English in Iran, 1978; Health and Education manager, Ohio Governor’s Office of Appalachia, 1979; Ohio House, 1980-82; Taught English, managed a home-security company in Saudi Arabia, 1983; Ohio Senate, 1984-94; U.S. House, 1995-present.

FAMILY — Wife, Elizabeth; two children from a previous marriage.

Basics in the Abramoff case:

Charges: Conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion.

Penalties: Up to 30 years in prison and $750,000 in fines, but prosecutors and Abramoff’s attorneys agreed to recommend 9 1/2 to 11 years in prison and a fine of $15,000 to $150,000. If he cooperates fully in prosecution of others, the government might recommend an unspecified reduction.

Restitution: Abramoff agreed to pay an estimated $25 million in restitution to his victims and $1.7 million to the Internal Revenue Service for evading taxes during 2001-03.

Indian tribes: Abramoff admitted he conspired to defraud Indian tribes in

Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas. They paid Abramoff and companies he controlled roughly $55 million, from which he secretly took more than $21 million for himself. At one point, he took money from a Texas tribe to lobby for Indian gambling in that state while also taking money from a Louisiana tribe to oppose such gambling in Texas.

—Public corruption: Abramoff and his former partner Michael Scanlon, who has already pleaded guilty, gave campaign contributions, trips, meals and entertainment to public officials and their relatives in return for favorable treatment of his clients.

—Rep. Ney: Abramoff’s admissions Tuesday focused on an unnamed member of the House of Representatives, identified elsewhere as Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, chairman of the powerful House Administration Committee. Rep. Ney received a “lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world-famous courses” along with other golf outings; trips to the Northern Mariana islands and the 2001 Super Bowl; tickets to concerts and sports events; fundraisers in box suites at sports and concert venues and at Abramoff’s upscale restaurant; and $14,000 in contributions to Ney or on his behalf. Abramoff said Ney backed legislation, placed statements in the Congressional Record, tried to influence executive branch officials for Abramoff’s clients and tried to deliver a House wireless phone contract to one. Ney has denied wrongdoing.