Times Reporter

 October 14, 2006

 Ney says he’ll resign: Lawmaker pleads guilty to corruption

 By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty to corruption charges Friday but defied demands from Republican leaders to resign from Congress immediately.

The calls that he step down came from both Democrats and Republicans, including President Bush.

Ney, R-Heath, declined to talk to reporters as he left the federal courtroom where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. It was part of an admission that he accepted thousands of dollars worth of gifts from lobbyists in exchange for using his official position to do favors for them.

He is the first lawmaker convicted in an ongoing federal probe of a corruption scheme orchestrated by Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty earlier this year and is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Seven other lobbyists or government officials, including a former Ney chief of staff, have been convicted as a result of the investigation.

Ney, who makes $165,200 a year, said in a written statement issued after his plea that he would resign “in the next few weeks” after making “sure that my staff members are OK and that any open constituent matters and obligations are taken care of.”

Earlier in the day, Republican sources said they believed he would step down immediately, after emerging from an alcohol rehabilitation program he entered last month. One highly placed GOP source said Ney, 52, was “definitely going to resign today.”

When that failed to occur, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and other GOP leaders who have been plagued by several scandals that could hurt their chances of maintaining control of that chamber in the Nov. 7 election, warned Ney to resign quickly or face expulsion from Congress.

The soonest the House could vote to expel Ney would be after lawmakers return to Washington following the election.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said Ney should resign immediately. She lashed out at Hastert for not forcing him out sooner.

The White House also weighed in, with Bush press secretary Tony Snow telling reporters Ney “ought to step down.” Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett blasted Ney, calling him a “liar, a criminal and a disgrace to public service.”

“He’s a cancer in the Congress who needs to be removed, and I’m asking the members of Ohio’s congressional delegation to take the lead on expelling him from the U.S. House,” he said.

Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, said Ney’s continued presence in Congress “is a huge blight” on Republicans that undermines the campaign of state Sen. Joy Padgett, R-Coshocton, to replace Ney.

Padgett is vying with Dover Law Director Zack Space, the Democratic candidate, in a race that is considered highly competitive even though the district is strongly Republican.

“Padgett has been dying to have him resign and the longer he sticks around – it’s like having a skunk out there following her around,” Ornstein said.

“It’s fairly obvious why he’s staying in office,” Ornstein added. “He needs the money. The longer he stays the longer he can collect his salary.”

Ney, once a rising star in Congress, will be sentenced Jan. 19. He faces up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Prosecutors are recommending two years and three months in prison, based on federal sentencing guidelines.

“While I have tried my best during my 12 years in Congress to serve the country in bipartisan ways, I have made mistakes of judgment and acted in ways I’m not proud of,” Ney said in a statement.

“I never intended my career in public service to end this way and I am ashamed that it has. I never acted to enrich myself or to get things I shouldn’t, but over time I allowed myself to get too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington, D.C., for too long,” he said.

In court documents filed in September, 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, dating to early 2000.

The gifts included a lavish $160,000 golf trip to Scotland in 2002, which prosecutors said he “mischaracterized” as an official visit. Congressional rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting more than $100 per year from the same source except in limited circumstances.

The same year as the Scotland trip, Ney used his position as chairman of the House Administration Committee to steer a lucrative contract for wireless telecommunications services in House offices to an Abramoff client. Two years earlier, he inserted statements in the Congressional Record supporting Abramoff’s interest in a Florida casino.

Ney also unsuccessfully sought to insert provisions in a voting bill that would have lifted a ban on casino gaming for two Texas Indian tribes that were clients of Abramoff.

As a federal judge detailed the charges against him, Ney, wearing a gray suit and yellow-and-black tie, calmly answered in the affirmative, except when it came to the tribal gaming provision. “Your honor, nothing was ever inserted, but I did agree,” he said.

Ney admitted violating a lobbying ban when he encouraged his former Chief of Staff Neil Volz, who went to work for Abramoff, to illegally lobby Ney and others during a one-year waiting period.

In an admission unrelated to Abramoff, Ney said he and two staff members, including another former chief of staff, Will Heaton, accepted thousands of dollars in gambling chips from Fouad al-Zayat. He is 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.

When he announced his intention to plead guilty last month, Ney disclosed he was seeking treatment for alcoholism.

“The treatment and counseling I have started have been very helpful but I know that I am not done yet and that I have more work to do to deal with my alcohol dependency,” Ney said in his statement.

His attorneys said they will request that his treatment continue in prison, a request that the judge said may or may not be granted.