May 27, 2006
junket included luxuries
WASHINGTON - When Rep. Bob Ney went on what prosecutors describe as a lavish golf junket to Scotland several years ago, he flew over in a luxurious private jet with a “state of the art entertainment center” and stayed in a $400-a-night hotel, according to information presented at a trial in federal court Friday.
The third day of the trial of former administration official David Safavian provided the greatest amount of detail yet on the controversial August 2002 golf trip that Ney, R-Heath, and several other congressional staff and lobbyists took at the invitation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Safavian, the former chief of staff to onetime General Services Administration head Stephen Perry of Canton, is fighting charges he lied to investigators about his participation in the trip and his efforts to help Abramoff acquire the use of land controlled by the agency.
Prosecutors have identified the Scotland trip among “things of value” that they say Abramoff showered on Ney, congressional staff and others as part of a scheme to win legislative and government favors for his clients.
Ney, who is under investigation, has repeatedly insisted he did not do anything unethical or illegal. He has not been charged.
Two other participants in the trip, Will Heaton and Paul Vinovich, are current or former Ney aides who have been subpoenaed to testify as witnesses in the trial but have said through their attorneys they will invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if compelled to appear.
Safavian’s attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said the two are among three or four witnesses she may call next week.
Heaton is chief of staff in Ney’s congressional office. Vinovich served as staff director at the House Administration Committee when Ney chaired the panel.
Another participant in the trip, Ney’s former chief of staff Neil Volz, is expected to provide more details about the visit to the United Kingdom when he testifies at the trial Tuesday.
Volz, who left Ney to go to work for Abramoff as a lobbyist, pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy in attempting to corrupt Ney and other government officials. He is cooperating with federal prosecutors.
In addition to Safavian, former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed went on the trip, which included four days of golf at St. Andrews and one or more nights at the ritzy Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park, London. Others on the trip included Abramoff, a young son of Abramoff, Alex, and Michael E. Williams, a lobbyist who previously worked for Abramoff.
According to records provided by prosecutors, the entire group flew from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland to St. Andrews in Scotland in a chartered Gulfstream jet described as having rich mahogany woodwork, computer terminals and complimentary bar service.
Prosecutors showed the jury a listing of hotel charges in Scotland, including four nights for Ney that were rendered in British pounds but equivalent to about $400 a night when converted to U.S. dollars at that time.
Ney’s attorney Mark Tuohey said this week that when Ney went to London, he chose to stay in a more modest hotel and only spent one night there before returning to the United States on a commercial flight.
In the past, Ney has refused to answer reporters’ questions about the trip, saying he planned to make a full presentation to the House Ethics Committee. That committee recently opened an investigation of Ney.
Ney also says he has fully cooperated with Justice Department investigators.
In a required congressional travel disclosure, Ney reported he went to the United Kingdom from Aug. 3-9, 2002, where he said he spoke to members of the Scottish Parliament, visited the British Parliament in London and attended a Scottish military festival in Edinburgh.
Ney’s attorneys have not released the names of the handful of members of the Scottish Parliament they say the congressman met with.
In his disclosure report, Ney said his share of the trip cost $3,200 and was picked up by a non-profit public policy organization that he was told sponsored the outing. That organization later said it had no knowledge of the trip. Ney announced he had been “duped” by Abramoff.
Prosecutors have said the entire trip cost between $130,000 and $150,000, and was paid for by Abramoff through the Capital Athletic Foundation, a charitable organization he controlled. It is against congressional rules for a lobbyist to pick up the cost of lawmakers’ travel.
In court Friday, Reising said the foundation used contributions from two Indian tribes that have casinos, the Alabama Coushatta and the Saginaw, Mich., Chippewa, as well as a donation from a Russian vodka distributor, to pay for the travel.
The chartered jet alone cost $91,465, prosecutors said.
Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said Friday that Ney “filed precisely what his office was told to be the cost of the trip by the trip sponsor,” which Walsh added “was exactly in line with House ethics rules and what every member of Congress does under the current system.”
Walsh said lawmakers “have to take people at their word. And if in fact Mr. Abramoff was not honest about the cost or the sponsor of the trip, then that would appear to be in line with what seems to be a career based on lying to and misleading people.”
Among the catered items on the flight Rep. Bob Ney took on a luxurious private jet to Scotland, along with Jack Abramoff and David Safavian and five other passengers, were:
-- One package of red Twizzlers
-- Three grilled chicken dinners with side dishes
-- Five cheese omelets
-- Side of bacon for six
-- Assortment of bagels
-- Lots of snacks
-- 24-pack of Miller Lite
-- 12-pack of Bud Lite
-- Two bottles of red wine
-- One quart of 2 percent milk