September 16, 2006
Ney pleads guilty: Lawmaker admits to charges, enters rehab
Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney will plead guilty to corruptly
accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from lobbyists in
exchange for doing legislative favors for them, Justice
Department officials announced Friday.
The six-term Republican from Heath, once a rising star in
Congress, faces up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines
for crimes he will formally plead guilty to on Oct. 13.
Prosecutors are recommending two years and three months in
prison, based on federal sentencing guidelines.
Ney’s plea to two felony counts – conspiracy to commit a variety
of offenses and filing false financial disclosures with Congress
– follows his vigorous insistence over the past two years that
he did nothing illegal, unethical or wrong.
Ney, 52, is the first lawmaker to be taken down by an ongoing
federal probe of a corruption scheme orchestrated by convicted
lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a probe that has resulted in convictions
against seven other lobbyists or government officials.
In a statement released after Friday’s announcement, Ney
admitted to making mistakes, acknowledged a drinking problem and
said he was seeking treatment.
“I have made serious mistakes, and I am sorry for them,” said
Ney, who dropped his bid for re-election last month, citing the
stress of the investigation on his family. “I am very sorry for
the pain I have caused to my family, my constituents in Ohio and
Adding that he had done a “great deal of soul-searching
recently,” Ney said he
had “come to recognize
that a dependence on alcohol has been a problem for me.” In
court documents, Ney admitted he accepted thousands of dollars
in trips, meals, sports and entertainment tickets, campaign
contributions and other benefits from Abramoff and other
lobbyists. In return, he used his official position to help
them, going back to early 2000.
Congressional rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting more than
$100 per year from the same source except in limited
circumstances. The gifts included a lavish $160,000 golf trip to
Scotland in 2002, which prosecutors said he “mischaracterized”
as an official visit.
Ney reported in travel disclosures to Congress that he gave a
speech to the Scottish Parliament, visited the British
Parliament and attended a Scottish military festival.
Prosecutors said he did not speak to Scottish parliamentarians
nor visit the British Parliament, and he attended the festival
“as a tourist with no official duties.”
In return for the trip and other favors, Ney unsuccessfully
sought to put provisions into a voting bill that would have
lifted a ban on casino gaming on two Texas Indian tribes that
were clients of Abramoff.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy involved several others,
including Abramoff; former congressional aides-turned-lobbyists
Michael Scanlon, Tony Rudy and Neil Volz; and former Ney chief
of staff Will Heaton.
In an admission unrelated to Abramoff, Ney said he and two staff
members, including Heaton, accepted thousands of dollars in
gambling chips from Fouad al-Zayat, a foreign businessman and
high-roller who sought Ney’s help in getting around U.S. laws
barring him from selling aircraft and spare parts to Iran.
Ney flew to London at least twice in 2003 to meet with al-Zayat
and gamble in casinos where the businessman was a member.
Prosecutors said Ney returned with more than $50,000 in gambling
winnings but did not pay back or report the funds he received
After one of the trips, Ney ordered a member of his staff to
carry $5,000 worth of British pounds through U.S. Customs so Ney
could report lower dollar amount. The next year, Ney reported in
a congressional financial disclosure that he had won $34,000 in
two hands of cards at a London casino.
For all the favors Ney agreed to do for Abramoff, al-Zayat and
others, he only succeeded in two of them, said Justice
As chairman of the Administration Committee, Ney had the
authority to award a contract to provide wireless
telecommunications service in the House office complex. He gave
it to an Abramoff client in 2002.
Two years earlier, he inserted two statements in the
Congressional Record in support of Abramoff’s interest in a
In the plea, Ney also admitted violating a lobbying ban when he
encouraged his former chief of staff Volz, who went to work for
Abramoff, to illegally lobby Ney and others during a one-year
Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher, who announced the
guilty plea, said Ney and his co-conspirators “engaged in a
long-term pattern of defrauding the public of his unbiased,
honest services as an elected official.” She said he was “acting
in his own best interests, and not the best interests of his
A spokesman for Ney said he is in an in-patient alcohol
rehabilitation program that he entered Wednesday or Thursday,
after casting several congressional votes on Tuesday.
Ney’s attorney William Lawler declined to identify the facility
and was unsure how long he would be there.
“That’s going to be up to the doctors and Bob, and the progress
that he makes,” Lawler said, adding that Ney has had an alcohol
problem for “certainly, years.”
Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre, who represents the congressional
district north of Ney’s, said he was “sorry that events have
turned out as they have.”
“I always got along with Bob and liked him as a member and
colleague, and I think he did a good job as chairman” of the
House Administration Committee, Regula said.
Regula, however, rejected demands from a Democratic campaign
committee that he give up $9,000 in campaign contributions the
group said he received from Ney. “First of all, I want all the
facts before I make any statement on that,” Regula said. “We
have made contributions to each other in various circumstances
and to Ohio Republicans.”
Unlike several others who pleaded guilty before him, Ney is not
cooperating with prosecutors as part of the agreement.
While it is not totally clear why, one possible explanation is
that prosecutors were using the earlier defendants to gather
incriminating information on Ney, their target, and do not need
help from him.
Ney’s plea is likely to revive debate over the Abramoff scandal
in the heated battle for control of Congress in the November
general election. Democrats have been trying to make the scandal
a liability for Republicans, who now control the House and
Senate and have done little to reform lobbying rules or other
ethics guidelines. In Ohio, state Democratic Chairman Chris
Redfern immediately tied Ney to State Sen. Joy Padgett of
Coshocton, who is now trying to keep Ney’s seat in Republican
“Joy Padgett has shown her stripes as a Bob Taft appointee and
hand-picked candidate of Bob Ney,” Redfern said. “We can’t trust
her to clean up the mess in Washington.”
Redfern contrasted Padgett to the Democratic candidate in the
18th District, Zack Space of Dover, saying Space “has taken an
ethics pledge to clean up Congress and put his district above
the special interests, while Padgett hasn’t even returned Bob
Ney’s tainted campaign contributions.”
But Ohio Republican Chairman Robert Bennett said Democrats
ignore corruption in their own ranks.
“We will continue to clean up corruption wherever it exists in
government, regardless of partisanship, while the Democrats
stand idly by pointing a hypocritical finger,” he said.
Copley News Service Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu
contributed to this story