Canton Repository

November 19, 2004

Witness links Ohio’s Ney to tribal scheme

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — A witness at a Senate hearing testified this week that Ohio Rep. Bob Ney was a key figure in a scandal involving two influence peddlers who are accused of bilking Indian tribes out of millions of dollars paid to influence legislation.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Ney, R-St. Clairsville and chairman of the House Administration Committee, expressed outrage at the victimization of the Indians while insisting that he, too, was a dupe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“I, like these Indian tribes and other members of Congress, was duped by Jack Abramoff,” said Ney, who has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Ney said he was “shocked, disgusted and appalled by the growing web of duplicitous, immoral and possibly criminal behavior by Jack Abramoff and (his partner) Michael Scanlon with regard to their activities representing Indian gaming interests.”

Ney’s role became public Wednesday, when senators were told that he attempted to refashion a voting reform bill by including a provision to reopen a Tigua Indian casino in Texas that had been shut down by court order.

Abramoff, a lobbyist behind the effort to open the casino, and Scanlon, a former Capitol Hill staffer, are at the center of a Senate probe into what some have called a cynical scheme to manipulate tribal elections and defraud several tribes. Abramoff and Scanlon both have cited their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in refusing to testify before a Senate committee.

Although a federal investigation reportedly is under way, no one has been charged.

Ney’s part grew out of Abramoff’s efforts to find a federal fix for the Tigua Indians, who hoped to reopen their casino in El Paso. The state shut down the gaming hall in early 2002, saying it violated state gambling laws.

Marc Schwartz, a public relations representative of the Tigua tribe, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the Tiguas retained Abramoff, who in turn advised them to hire Scanlon to build grass-roots support for the casino reopening.

Ney was guiding landmark voting reform legislation to passage in 2002. Schwartz said he learned from Abramoff in March 2002 that Ney had agreed to add a provision to the bill to reopen the casino.

In addition to paying $4.2 million to Scanlon, the tribe donated thousands of dollars to Ney’s leadership political action committee at the request of Abramoff, Schwartz said. Abramoff “told me it was critical,” Schwartz said in testimony submitted to the committee.

Schwartz added that he received a request from Abramoff “stating that Congressman Ney had asked if the tribe could cover the expense for a trip to Scotland. The cost was suggested to be $50,000 and again Abramoff referred to him (Ney) as our friend.”

The tribe did not pay for the trip, described during the hearing as a golf outing to the world famous St. Andrews course. Ney, former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, Abramoff and Scanlon all went on the trip, according to Schwartz.

Schwartz said another tribe, the Alabama Coushatta of Texas, financed the trip. “They made the contribution on our behalf,” he said.

In his statement, Ney denied any knowledge of a tribe paying for the trip, which he described as an opportunity to “help support a charitable organization (that Abramoff founded) through meetings he organized with Scottish Parliament officials.”

Ney disclosed the Aug. 3-9, 2002, trip to Scotland in a congressionally mandated financial disclosure report filed last year. The report lists the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative, Washington-based communications and research foundation, as the sponsor of the trip.

The foundation referred questions about the trip to its attorney, who had not responded to the inquiries by the end of the day.

In his statement, Ney insisted that he sought to add the casino provision to the bill after learning that it was backed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the Senate sponsor of the voting measure.

“I was approached by Mr. Abramoff, who explicitly told me that this provision was supported by ... Dodd,” said Ney, who noted that Dodd’s support was critical to the bill’s passage.

Ney said he then asked Dodd about the provision “and he expressed no knowledge of it.”

“The matter was then closed from my perspective and this provision was not included in the Help America Vote Act,” Ney’s statement said.

Dodd issued a statement saying he was approached by Ney’s staff to add the provision and he “summarily rejected” the suggestion.

Schwartz’s story differs from Ney’s in key respects. In an interview Thursday, Schwartz said he and several members of the Tigua tribe met with Ney in Washington in August 2002.

Ney “thought they (the tribe) had been put upon” when their casino was closed, he expressed during the meeting, according to Schwartz. “He was embarrassed by his fellow Republicans and as far as he was concerned this was something that needed to be righted.”

After the elections bill passed in October without the provision sought by the tribe, Ney expressed his displeasure with Dodd for not including the provision in the bill during a telephone conference with members of the tribe, Schwartz said.

Schwartz recalled that Ney “was extremely disappointed that Sen. Dodd had gone back on his word.” According to Schwartz, Ney said that Dodd “had given him his word it would be in the final version.”

Ney declined to field any questions, preferring to let his statement speak for itself, his spokesman Brian Walsh said.

Walsh said Thursday that Ney “stands ready to do everything in his power to assist in any way possible with all ongoing investigations into this matter and he is fully confident that he has met all moral, ethical and legal obligations of his office.”