Times Reporter

June 23, 2006

Ney denied helping tribe

By Paul M. Krawzak

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney did not try to put in a legislative fix to help a Texas Indian tribe represented by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, he told Senate staff in late 2004, according to a report released Thursday.

Ney, R-Heath, said he was not even familiar with the tribe, despite statements by others that he met with tribal officials and held a conference call with them two years earlier, the report says.

The 375-page report on a massive tribal lobbying fraud, released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, reveals that Ney’s recollection of events contradicts statements made by others, including a former Ney aide and representatives of the Tigua Indian tribe.

Ney is under investigation as part of a Justice Department probe that so far has resulted in the convictions of six former lobbyists or government officials.

Ney maintains he was duped by Abramoff and insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Reacting to the report, Ney spokesman Brian J. Walsh said it shows that when Ney was asked to meet with Senate staff, he “immediately agreed.”

Zack Space, a Dover Democrat who is opposing Ney in the November election and has made an issue out of the congressman’s links to the scandal, charged that the report “details how Bob Ney misled the committee about his meetings and actions on behalf of a Jack Abramoff client.”

But Walsh said the report shows consistency in Ney’s recollections.

“His recollection then and today is as he has repeatedly said – Abramoff approached him with a proposed amendment, claiming Senator Dodd’s support, that would assist an Indian tribe,” Walsh said. “Congressman Ney did not recall the name of the tribe.” During a Senate committee hearing on Nov. 18, 2004, Tigua representative Marc Schwartz testified that Ney agreed to add a provision to an election reform bill to reopen an El Paso casino for the Tigua Indians, a client of Abramoff’s.

But when Ney spoke privately with Senate investigators days earlier on Nov. 12, he told them he did not know the provision would benefit the Tigua.

Ney said Abramoff had told him that Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., wanted to insert the Indian provision to “benefit a gaming tribe in Connecticut.”

“Congressman Ney said there was never any mention of any tribe in El Paso, Texas, and no reference to any Tigua Indian tribe,” the report says.

The provision to reopen the casino never made it into the legislation after Dodd objected to it.

Ney also told Senate staff he was unfamiliar with the tribe. But according to the report, he met with Tigua representatives for more than an hour in his Washington office on Aug. 14, 2002, and later held a conference call with the tribal council on Oct. 8, 2002.

“He could not recall ever meeting with the Tigua,” the report said. “When asked about a possible two-hour meeting, Congressman Ney said he ‘wouldn’t even meet with the president for two hours.’”

But the report also notes that an attorney who accompanied Ney to the interview told Senate staff that there was an “internal e-mail” describing a meeting that was scheduled in Ney’s office with the “Taqua.”

According to the report, Schwartz recalled that during the meeting with Ney the congressman “spoke about his district, the Tigua’s plight, the political ramifications for Republicans of the Tigua casino closing, and the federal legislative process, especially the process by which committee reports are done.”

“Schwartz also told the committee that Congressman Ney gave them assurances that he was working to help the Tigua.”

The report says Abramoff enlisted Neil Volz, a former Ney chief of staff, to lobby Ney on the Tigua issue.

Ney, however, told Senate investigators “that aside from Abramoff, no one – including Volz – approached him about the provision that Abramoff had brought to his attention.”

Volz has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a corruption scheme orchestrated by Abramoff, who also pleaded guilty. Both have alleged that Ney was offered things of value, including a lavish golf trip to Scotland, in exchange for legislative favors. The Tigua Indians donated $32,000 to Ney’s campaign committees while they were seeking his help in 2002.

Ney also told Senate staff he never asked Abramoff to ask the Tiguas to pay for the golf trip to Scotland.

According to the report, Ney told Senate staff the trip was sponsored by the Capital Athletic Foundation. But Ney added that Abramoff had not told him CAF was his private foundation. In a congressional travel disclosure, Ney reported the sponsor of the trip was a Washington-based conservative public policy group, which later denied any connection to the trip.

“Congressman Ney said the purpose of the trip was to raise money for underprivileged kids in Scotland and Washington, D.C.,” the report says. “The itinerary consisted of golfing, meeting two parliamentarians and watching the Marine Band.”