Times Reporter

 September 15, 2006

 Reports say Ney to plead guilty

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney and his staff did not respond to unconfirmed reports Thursday that the Heath Republican has reached an agreement to plead guilty to at least one criminal charge in a Justice Department investigation.

Ney, his office and his attorneys did not return messages and phone calls seeking their comment. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

Press reports citing unidentified sources said Ney has agreed to plead guilty in a deal that could be announced as early as today.

Ney missed all votes in the House on Wednesday and Thursday, although he did vote on Tuesday. His office did not return calls seeking to find out why he wasn’t voting or whether he was in Washington.

The New York Times reported that he had entered an in-patient rehabilitation center for treatment of alcoholism.

The six-term lawmaker has been under investigation by federal prosecutors for his role in a bribery and corruption scheme spearheaded by one-time Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty earlier this year and is cooperating with investigators.

Several former congressional staff and lobbyists, including Ney’s former chief of staff Neil Volz, have pleaded guilty. They alleged that Ney was the recipient of free meals, tickets to sporting events, a golf trip to Scotland and other benefits that they said he accepted in return for helping their clients.

Ney has denied any wrongdoing and had said he would fight any charges.

Ney announced last month that he would not seek re-election because of the strain of the investigation on his family.

On Thursday, state Sen. Joy Padgett, R-Coshocton, won a special election to replace Ney on the ballot.

Three of Ney’s key aides, including his communications director Brian Walsh, left Ney’s office in June. Katie Harbath, who replaced Walsh, left Ney to join a public affairs consulting firm after the congressman withdrew his re-election bid last month.

Earlier this week, David Popp, chief of staff at Ney’s congressional office, said Ney did not intend to replace Harbath.

At one time a rising star within the House Republican majority, Ney was pressured to step down from the chairmanship of the House Administration Committee in January following Abramoff’s guilty plea and implication of the congressman.