Canton Repository

February 27, 2007

Ex-Ney aide pleads in bribery scheme

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON William J. Heaton, a former chief of staff for convicted ex-Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, on Monday became the second Ney aide to plead guilty in a bribery scandal that has ensnared Ney and several other former government officials and lobbyists.

Just three days before Ney himself is scheduled to begin his prison sentence in Morgantown, W.Va., Heaton pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire and mail fraud.

Appearing before U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle on Monday afternoon, Heaton acknowledged that he helped Ney solicit tens of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts from convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others in return for using Ney's official position to benefit the lobbyist and his clients.

EX CHIEF OF STAFF

Heaton, 28, served as Ney's chief of staff from February 2002 until July 2006. A former executive assistant to Ney, he was promoted to the top position in Ney's congressional office after the previous chief of staff, Neil Volz, left to go to work for Abramoff.

Volz pleaded guilty in the fraud and bribery scheme last May and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. Serving as a star prosecution witness in the trial of former Bush administration official David Safavian last year, Volz delivered testimony against Safavian that also implicated Ney.

Ney, who pleaded guilty last October to conspiracy and making false statements, has been ordered to surrender himself by 2 p.m. Thursday at a federal minimum security prison in Morgantown, W.Va. The Heath Republican was sentenced to 21/2 years in prison.

In the deal he cut with prosecutors, Heaton acknowledged he went on several trips with Ney, including a lavish golf trip to Scotland in August 2002, that lobbyist Abramoff paid for in violation of congressional rules.

Heaton also was the staff member who wrote a congressionally required financial disclosure report on the trip for Ney, which Heaton knew mischaracterized the cost and purpose of the trip, prosecutors said.

GAMBLING WINNINGS

Court documents filed as part of the plea deal also describe Heaton's role in an August 2003 gambling excursion in London, in which he and Ney accepted thousands of dollars in gambling chips from a foreign businessman.

Neither Heaton nor Ney paid back the chips they received from the man, who was seeking their help in getting around a U.S. law prohibiting him from selling U.S.-made airplanes and airplane parts to Iran.

Heaton returned to the United States with $5,000 in gambling winnings and Ney brought back about $47,000, according to the documents.

He also admitted helping Ney conceal some of the winnings in a safe at his congressional office and periodically opened the safe so Ney could withdraw funds.

Heaton did not speak with reporters after the court hearing, and his lawyers did not release a statement.

A 2000 graduate of the College of William & Mary, Heaton worked as an assistant to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., before joining Ney's staff.

He faces up to five years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines, he would probably serve between 18 and 24 months.

No sentencing date was set.