Times Reporter

May 18, 2006

Ethics panel finally opens Ney probe

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – After more than a year of inaction, the House Ethics Committee on Wednesday opened an investigation into Rep. Bob Ney’s dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other influence peddlers and his links to a widening corruption scandal in Congress.

Ney, R-Heath, said he welcomed the inquiry, which in a statement he called an opportunity to “lay out the real facts of these matters instead of having the distortions and innuendo that have been reported in the national media be taken as truth.”

He pledged to cooperate with the committee “in any way possible.”

The committee also opened an investigation of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who is under investigation by federal authorities for allegedly accepting bribes.

The ethics panel also said it would conduct an inquiry into whether other lawmakers or staff were involved in a bribery scandal that led to the conviction of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.

In one of the first reactions to the probes, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the ethics committee’s return to business “long overdue.”

“It is imperative that the committee conduct prompt investigations so the American people can have confidence in the integrity of Congress,” she said.

Ney has been under investigation as part of a Justice Department probe of corruption and bribery involving lobbyists and government officials since last year.

The six-term lawmaker has not been charged, and he has repeatedly insisted he did nothing wrong or illegal.

But over the past six months, Ney has been implicated in several plea agreements signed by Abramoff, his associate Michael Scanlon, lobbyist Tony Rudy and former Ney aide Neil Volz.

The four, who are cooperating with prosecutors, alleged that Ney did legislative favors for their clients in return for things of value provided to the congressman or his staff, including a lavish golf trip to Scotland in 2002, free meals and tickets to sporting events, and campaign contributions.

The most recent plea came from Volz, who said last week that he accepted bribes while working as Ney’s chief of staff and then offered bribes in an attempt to corrupt Ney and others after he became a lobbyist in early 2002.

In his response to the congressional investigation, Ney noted that he has offered to appear before the ethics committee on two separate occasions but had not heard back from the panel.

The ethics committee’s inquiries ground to a halt in early 2005 amid partisan squabbling and disagreements over committee rules and staffing. The committee had opened a preliminary inquiry into Ney after his links to Abramoff’s scheme to defraud Indian tribe clients were revealed in a Senate hearing in late 2004.

Last November, a federal grand jury subpoenaed testimony and records from Ney as part of a federal probe. Since then, Ney’s attorneys have met with federal prosecutors several times in an effort to persuade them that Ney is innocent.