The Times Reporter

November 22, 2005

Ney under the gun - Statement: 'Representative No. 1' traded favor for votes

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington Bureau Writer

WASHINGTON – A public relations executive’s plea of guilty to federal charges Monday for the first time directly ties Rep. Bob Ney to a widening criminal investigation on Capitol Hill.

Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate federal bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud laws as part of an agreement that describes Ney, R-Heath, and members of his staff as receiving favors from lobbyists and taking actions favorable to their clients.

In what some have called the biggest scandal to hit Washington in decades, investigators have been scrutinizing the tens of millions of dollars in fees that Scanlon and his onetime lobbying partner Jack Abramoff collected from Indian tribe clients and the web of influence they wove throughout Congress and federal agencies.

Scanlon, 35, is cooperating with prosecutors.

In an eight-page statement that is part of Scanlon’s plea, prosecutors said Abramoff told tribal clients he would charge them little or nothing if they hired Scanlon. Scanlon charged fees far in excess of his costs and then secretly shared half of his profits with Abramoff, they said.

The statement lists numerous instances in which a congressman identified as “Representative No. 1” and members of his staff used their official positions to benefit Scanlon, Abramoff and their clients.

Ney’s attorney, Mark Tuohey, acknowledged last week that Ney is the unnamed congressman who first appeared in a summary of charges against Scanlon on Friday.

Ney, a prominent lawmaker who serves as chairman of the House Administration Committee, has not been charged with a crime.

“Any allegation that Rep. Ney did anything illegal or improper is false,” his spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement. Walsh said many of the actions listed in the plea agreement “did not actually take place.”

Whenever Ney “took official action, actions similar to those taken by elected representatives every day as part of the normal, appropriate government process, he did so based on his best understanding of what was right and not based on any improper influence,” Walsh said.

Longtime political observers say Ney’s presence in the criminal documents marks a politically damaging and perhaps legally precarious turn of events for the six-term lawmaker.

“It’s very damaging because the essence of this scandal is revolting to the vast majority of people regardless of partisan identification,” University of Virginia political analyst Larry J. Sabato said. “The more you read about the way the lobbyists acted in their handling of their clients and their manipulation of congressmen, the less confidence you have in the whole process.”

John C. Green, a University of Akron political analyst, said the latest development greatly complicates Ney’s chances of winning re-election next year.

“Bob Ney has made a career out of winning in tough elections, and he may be able to handle these allegations against him,” Green said, “but it turns what otherwise would have been an uncontested election into a potentially very close election and perhaps a Democratic pickup.”

But Roscoe C. Howard Jr., a former federal prosecutor, said Ney’s mention in the documents does not mean he will be indicted.

“I don’t think anybody wants to be that close to that kind of document,” he said, “but I don’t think it necessarily means there’s going to be criminal liability.”

The statement from Scanlon and prosecutors says that beginning in January 2000, Scanlon and “Lobbyist A,” who is Abramoff, “engaged in a course of conduct through which one or both of them offered and provided a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts and influence and agreements to provide official action and influence.”

The unnamed Ney and staff members received paid trips to the Marianas Islands in 2000, the Super Bowl in Tampa in 2001 and a golf jaunt in Scotland in 2002, in addition to tickets to concerts and sporting events, use of box suites at sports venues and other benefits, according to the document.

In exchange, Ney agreed to back legislation to reopen a casino sought by Indian clients, place statements in the Congressional Record “calculated to pressure the then-owner” of a casino cruise line to sell to Abramoff and a partner, and “endorse” a client of Abramoff’s for a project to improve cellular service in the House office complex, among other favors, the statement says.

Ney maintains he has never been to the Marianas Islands and did not attend the 2001 Super Bowl.

Neither Ney’s attorney Tuohey nor Walsh commented after Scanlon’s plea.

In the past, Ney has insisted he was “duped” by Abramoff. He expressed shock and disgust over what had been revealed about Abramoff’s and Scanlon’s dealing with clients.

Abramoff, a partner in the cruise line purchase, was indicted in August on charges of defrauding lenders in the sale.

Scanlon is the first defendant to plead guilty in the probe. Former Bush administration official David Safavian, who also has been charged, pleaded innocent last month to charges he lied to investigators about the golf trip to Scotland.

U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle told Scanlon that, based on federal sentencing guidelines, he could expect to spend 51 to 63 months in prison in his delayed sentence. He also agreed to pay $19 million in restitution.