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Pressed by Republican House colleagues to resign, Rep. Bob Ney is the first congressman to fall in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling case, a controversy that has reached the Bush White House and Capitol Hill.
In his sixth term, Ney is to enter a guilty plea Friday to a pair of felonies that could send him to prison for up to 10 years.
Ney signed papers a month ago admitting to charges of conspiracy and making false statements, acknowledging that he had deprived the public of his honest services.
The Ohio congressman says he took tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips, sports tickets, campaign contributions, meals and casino chips in exchange for legislation and public statements supporting Abramoff’s clients and a foreign businessman.
With the Justice Department recommending 27 months behind bars for Ney, the congressman may announce his decision to step down when he appears before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, an appointee of President Clinton.
Longtime Washington lawyer Stephen Ryan said “the most likely event” is that Ney will quit in front of the judge because that would represent acceptance of responsibility for his crimes, a critical issue with regard to the length of his prison term.
Ney checked into an alcohol rehabilitation program in September. If Ney applies for and is accepted into the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Residential Drug Abuse Program, he might be able to reduce his time behind bars by up to a year, according to an agency manual.
Some federal judges have complained the program has been used by undeserving white-collar criminals to significantly cut prison time.
House Republicans are giving Ney a strong push toward the door.
“If Bob Ney fails to resign, I will strongly support a resolution to expel him from the House of Representatives,” said Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce, the fourth-ranking member of the House GOP leadership.
Despite his admission of criminal activity, Ney, 52, is entitled to collect a congressional pension.
In April, the House passed legislation that would have taken away congressional pensions of any lawmaker convicted of the conspiracy charge contained in the court papers Ney signed. But the Senate-passed bill did not contain the pension provision, and the two chambers never reached a compromise.
During his time in Congress, Ney built up goodwill back home for his responsiveness and visibility in a sprawling, conservative region of mines, farms and Rust Belt towns in eastern Ohio.
The recently filed court papers note that Abramoff, other lobbyists on his team and their clients had no connection to Ney’s congressional district, other than the lawmaker himself. “None of whom were Ohio-based,” the court documents note.
Ney’s court appearance comes one week after a top aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove resigned amid questions over her links to Abramoff. Susan Ralston left after a House committee reported that she apparently accepted tickets to sporting events from Abramoff without reimbursing him.
The House committee report, which summarized an investigation of links between Abramoff and the White House, cited 485 contacts between the lobbyist and his associates with the Bush White House. The tally was based on records House investigators obtained from 13 of 24 Abramoff clients.
In June, former White House official David Safavian, who had been the Bush administration’s top procurement official, was convicted of covering up his dealings with Abramoff. He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 27.
Associated Press writer David Hammer contributed to this report.