Ney claims he’s innocent

The Ohio congressman caught up in a lobbying scandal reasserted his innocence as a legal deadline passed.

The statute of limitations expired Thursday for federal prosecutors in Miami to bring charges against Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, involving his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a Fort Lauderdale casino cruise line.

But the Justice Department is continuing a broader investigation and has indicated that any charges would be filed in Washington.

“From day one, Congressman Ney has been clear and consistent regarding two important points,” his spokesman, Brian Walsh, said in a statement. “First, he has never done anything illegal, improper or unethical. Two, he would cooperate in any way possible with the Department of Justice’s investigation into the illegal activities of Jack Abramoff.

Walsh added: “Congressman Ney remains eager to refute the baseless and unfair allegations reported in the media and he will continue to cooperate with inquiries into the conduct of Mr. Abramoff and his associates.”

Ney’s lawyer, Mark Tuohey, said Saturday “there is no crime here” regarding the Florida cruise line investigation. He said Ney refused a request from prosecutors to extend for an additional six months the deadline that would have provided the government extra time to seek charges on the matter.

Ney had already granted one six-month extension of the statute of limitations. During that time, Tuohey said, he presented information to the U.S. attorney’s office in south Florida arguing that Ney is innocent of wrongdoing in the cruise line matter.

The Justice Department could take the position that, even though the deadline has passed in the cruise line investigation, it could be included in a broader conspiracy indictment against Ney.

If the Justice Department were to take such a position, “we would not agree that you can reach back” to encompass such long-ago conduct in a criminal conspiracy indictment, Tuohey said.

When Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January, he told federal prosecutors Ney took thousands of dollars in gifts, travel and campaign donations from him and associates in exchange for official acts.

Some of Ney’s alleged ties to Abramoff involved his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee, such as the lucrative contract he gave to an Abramoff client in 2003 to improve wireless telephone reception in House buildings.

Ney stepped down temporarily as chairman in January.