Times Reporter

May 9, 2006

Former Ney aide cops guilty plea - Volz implicates Ohio lawmaker

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – A former top aide to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy in a widening congressional bribery and fraud scandal, drawing the closest links yet between his former boss and the admitted crimes of several other lobbyists.

Appearing in U.S. District Court, Neil Volz claimed in a plea agreement that Ney “agreed to take favorable official action” to help clients of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for a lavish, all-expenses paid golf trip to Scotland in 2002, food and drink at Abramoff’s Capitol Hill restaurant, numerous tickets to sporting events and concerts, and other benefits.

Volz, 35, also admitted that after he joined Abramoff as a lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig law firm in February 2002, he violated a one-year congressional ban on lobbying his former boss Ney.

Earlier this year, on Jan. 6, Copley News Service reported that Volz may have violated the lobbying restriction based on several e-mails between Volz and Abramoff that Copley obtained.

Ney, who is under investigation in the federal probe, maintains he did nothing wrong or illegal. The six-term lawmaker has not been charged with a crime.

Reacting to Volz’s guilty plea, Ney spokesman Brian Walsh released a statement saying Ney “is more confident than ever that he will be vindicated in this matter.”

“Even with the coerced cooperation of the primary alleged conspirators, the Department of Justice now has appeared in federal court four times and has been unable to even allege that Congressman Ney was bribed,” the statement from Walsh read.

Ney has been implicated in several previous plea deals signed by Abramoff, his associate Michael Scanlon, and Tony Rudy, a former lobbyist and one-time aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Ney has established a legal defense fund and paid more than $200,000 to attorneys who have sought to convince prosecutors that Ney is innocent.

Volz, who first worked for Ney as a volunteer, served as his press secretary from 1995 until 1998 when he was promoted to chief of staff. Volz also served in the top staff position at the House Administration Committee, then chaired by Ney, from January 2001 until he left to become a lobbyist in February 2002.

In a statement filed with the court, Volz acknowledged that his violations of the law began when he worked for Ney and the committee. During that time, he said, he accepted free tickets to sporting events, as well as meals, drinks and rounds of golf provided by Abramoff or Rudy.

The statement says Volz and Ney, who is referred to as “Representative No. 1,” and others who are not identified “performed official acts for or at the behest of Abramoff and others, which were motivated in part by the things of value received.”

After Volz left government to become a lobbyist, he and Abramoff, as well as Rudy and Scanlon, offered and provided things of value to public officials, including Ney and his staff, according to the document.

The statement adds a trip to Lake George, N.Y., in August of 2003, in which Ney participated, to benefits provided to Ney that have been listed in previous plea agreements signed by Abramoff, Rudy and Scanlon.

Volz paid for part of the two-night trip to Sagamore Resort for Ney and members of his staff, and Volz “assured” Ney that Volz would be reimbursed by Abramoff, according to the prosecutors’ statement.

Federal law forbids lobbyists from paying for lawmakers’ trips.

Ney aide Walsh denied the trip to Lake George “was anything other than a trip with personal friends for which everyone paid their share, and he (Ney) has eyewitness accounts to prove that claim.”

The plea agreement also details Volz’s involvement in a controversial decision by the committee to award a $3 million contract to improve wireless service in the House office complex to Vienna, Va.-based MobileAccess, formerly known as Foxcom.

Volz said that in May 2001, when he was still working for Ney, the congressman agreed to help the company, a client of Abramoff’s, “pursue” the project.

Ney has countered that although he had the authority as committee chairman to award the competitive license agreement, he chose not to do so and instead allowed participating wireless service providers to choose the company.

In the plea deal, Volz admits his violations of the one-year lobbying restriction, which prohibits former high-ranking congressional staff from seeking to influence the lawmakers or committees that employed them for one year after leaving their posts.

Volz said that in April 2002, two months after he left Ney’s office, he communicated with Ney “with the intent to influence him” in connection with Ney’s agreement to add a provision to legislation to reopen an Indian casino in Texas. Volz also lobbied a member of the committee staff in violation of the law, he said.

Abramoff and Volz were seeking the provision on behalf of their clients, the Tigua Indians in El Paso, who contributed $32,000 to Ney’s campaign fund.

In addition, Volz told Ney what Abramoff wanted him to say during an Aug. 14, 2002, meeting and a later Oct. 8, 2002, conference call with members of the tribe seeking the reopening of their casino, according to the statement.

Ney’s office responded that it is “neither uncommon nor inappropriate for members of Congress to stay in touch with former staffers, especially when they are friends as Neil and the congressman were, and if Neil crossed an ethical line, he did so without Congressman Ney’s knowledge.”

Volz faces a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but prosecutors said the sentence could be reduced based on his cooperation with them.