May 31, 2006
Golf trip a reward for lobby ‘champ’
Neil Volz, who served as Ney’s chief of staff before going to work for since-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, mentioned Ney several times during the fourth day in the trial of former administration official David Safavian.
Safavian, former chief of staff to Stephen Perry when he headed the General Services Administration, is fighting charges he lied to investigators about his relationship with Abramoff and participation in an August 2002 golf trip that included Ney and several congressional staff members and lobbyists.
Among other revelations, Volz said he provided the basic language for a required congressional travel disclosure that was submitted by Ney, R-Heath, for the Scotland trip.
Volz also said he hid his role as a lobbyist for a telecommunications firm that secured a contract to provide wireless service in the congressional office complex. Ney approved that contract in his role as House Administration Committee chairman.
Ney is under investigation by federal authorities, but he insists he has done nothing wrong or illegal and he will be vindicated.
The reference to Ney as a “champion” came as Volz described a lobbying effort to get legislation passed that would set aside a portion of a former naval facility in Maryland for a Jewish school founded by Abramoff.
“We had a champion in Congress who had already agreed to attach other provisions to that bill, and it was moving,” Volz said, referring to an election-reform bill that Ney sponsored.
“Who was that champion?” asked federal prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds.
“Congressman Ney,” Volz responded.
Volz told the court he was trying to get a provision in the bill that would provide land for the school.
Ney already was seeking to insert a provision in the bill to reopen an Indian casino in Texas at the request of Abramoff, who represented the casino owner.
In the past, Ney has said he sought the casino provision because he believed it was desired by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the bill’s sponsor. Dodd denied any knowledge of the provision and refused to allow it into the legislation.
The effort to insert Abramoff’s school provision also failed.
Volz said he and Abramoff had been lobbying Safavian to use his influence to acquire use of the land for the school, since the property was controlled by GSA, a federal procurement agency.
They also were seeking Safavian’s help in giving one of their clients, the Chitimacha tribe of Louisiana, an edge in becoming one of the participating businesses in a pending redevelopment of the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C.
“We were trying to rig the rules so that our client could get the best chance,” Volz said.
Tuesday’s testimony marked the first time Volz has spoken in public since he pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiring to corrupt Ney and other public officials.
Volz said the trip to Scotland, in which Ney participated, was among the “things of value” that he and Abramoff offered to lawmakers and their staffs to secure favorable legislative action for their clients.
“We were playing golf, smoking cigars, having a good time,” Volz said while describing the trip. The outing, which prosecutors say cost about $140,000, included five days of golf at the historic St. Andrews course and two days at the spectacular Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London, where room rates ran $500 a night.
In his travel disclosure, Ney wrote that his share of the costs totaled $3,200. Volz said that figure, provided by a secretary to Abramoff, struck him as too low.
But Volz, noting that newspaper reporters reviewed travel reports and would notice any unusually high costs, said the number “kind of passed the smell test.”
Volz denied any involvement in writing two statements that Ney entered into the Congressional Record, an official chronicle, supporting what turned out to be a fraudulent bid by Abramoff and a partner to purchase a Florida casino cruise line in 2001. He said drafts of the statements were given to him by Michael Scanlon, a former associate of Abramoff who also has pleaded guilty in the bribery and fraud scheme. Volz, who was working for Ney at the time, said he passed the drafts on to Ney.
“I read them to Congressman Ney, who made some changes” before entering the statements in the Congressional Record, Volz said.