Canton Repository

April 1, 2006

Ex-DeLay aide pleads guilty

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - A guilty plea Friday by a former lobbyist and aide to Rep. Tom DeLay added new evidence linking Rep. Bob Ney to a corruption scandal now rocking Congress.

Tony C. Rudy’s conspiracy plea, the latest development in a wide-ranging federal corruption probe, shows that Ney, R-Heath, is still in peril of being indicted despite his efforts during the past several months to convince prosecutors he is innocent.

However, Ney’s spokesman, Brian J. Walsh, said his boss is confident of exoneration once all the strands in the complicated case have been untangled.

“It will be made clear that he did absolutely nothing wrong,” Walsh said.

In a plea agreement accepted by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, Rudy claims he invited Ney and his chief of staff, William Heaton, on a controversial all-expenses-paid golf trip to Scotland in August 2002. Rudy, who was working for lobbyist Jack Abramoff at the time, told Heaton in an e-mail that the trip “would involve golf, drinking and smoking Cubans,” the nine-page plea deal says.

As part of the deal, Rudy admitted his role in a bribery conspiracy that involved lavishing “things of value” on public officials, who, the document says, corruptly accepted them “knowing that they were given with the intent to influence or reward official action.”

In specific reference to Ney, Rudy alleges that he participated with Abramoff in offering Ney free drinks and meals, tickets to sporting events and concerts and other inducements in exchange for congressional favors provided by the lawmaker. Ney is identified only as “Representative No. 1” in court papers.

Abramoff recently pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme.

Rudy alleges that the favors included Ney’s agreement in March 2001 to “support legislation” enabling Abramoff’s clients to continue to manufacture clothing with misleading labels. The scheme involved marketing the garments as having been made in the United States when they actually were produced overseas by American companies exempt from U.S. wage and labor standards.

Abramoff reportedly collected more than $11 million in lobbying fees from the Northern Mariana Islands between 1994 and 2001. The U.S. commonwealth hired Abramoff to block extension of the minimum wage to American garment interests there.

Rudy, 39, also alleges that he worked with Abramoff to win Ney’s agreement in March 2002 to use an election-reform bill as a vehicle for lifting a ban on casinos owned by two Indian tribes in Texas that were Abramoff clients.

Ney, co-chairman of a House-Senate conference committee overseeing the bill, has acknowledged that he sought to include the provision in the legislation. But Ney has said he gave up the attempt after Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the Senate sponsor of the bill, objected to it.

Ney has insisted that he was duped by Abramoff and has not done anything wrong.

After Rudy’s plea, Walsh issued a statement saying that “today’s court papers make clear yet again that Jack Abramoff and his subordinates engaged in a collaborative and deliberate strategy to defraud, manipulate and lie in order to advance their own personal greed.

“In doing so, they lied to their clients, they lied to their colleagues and they lied to members of Congress,” Walsh said.

The revelations that emerged from Friday’s hearing mark the first time that Rudy, a former deputy chief of staff to DeLay, has publicly implicated Ney.

Abramoff and his lobbying associate, Michael Scanlon, previously linked Ney to their schemes to defraud Indian tribe clients. They pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors beginning late last year.

Like Abramoff and Scanlon, Rudy agreed to cooperate in return for a reduced sentence. He faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and up to $100,000 in restitution.

Citing Rudy’s invitation to the golf trip to Scotland, Walsh said the plea agreement lends support to Ney’s contention that he did not seek the trip, contrary to earlier reports.

In a November 2004 statement, Ney said he was approached by Abramoff and was asked to go on the trip, which he said was portrayed as a charitable endeavor.

Earlier, Senate investigators had released an e-mail from Abramoff indicating that Ney “had asked” if a Texas Indian tribe could “cover a Scotland golf trip for him and some staff.”

Walsh said the plea agreement “makes clear for the first time that contrary to what has been misrepresented by others in the past, Congressman Ney in fact never solicited the trip to Scotland.”

When he filed a required congressional disclosure for the trip, Ney portrayed the weeklong visit as related to his official duties as a lawmaker. Ney reported that he spoke to members of the Scottish Parliament, attended a military festival and visited the British Parliament.

Officials from all three organizations report no record of Ney’s visit, and Ney himself has declined to elaborate on the trip.

Ney disclosed the travel as being paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit organization, which later denied any knowledge of the event. Investigators say Abramoff paid for the trip, violating an existing congressional ban on lobbyists paying for congressional travel.

Rudy worked for onetime House Majority Leader DeLay from 1995 to 2000, before leaving to join Abramoff as a lobbyist.

Prosecutors said Rudy began accepting bribes from Abramoff while still working for DeLay in 1997, and in return performed official acts to benefit Abramoff’s clients such as advising lawmakers to vote against anti-gambling legislation.

After Rudy became a lobbyist, he began offering bribes to public officials such as Ney to ensure favorable official action and other assistance for his clients, the plea says.