A former top aide to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty Monday in the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal, admitting he conspired to corrupt Ney, his staff and other members of Congress with trips, free tickets, meals, jobs for relatives and fundraising events.
The criminal investigation of Abramoff’s lobbying operation has now claimed Abramoff and three former congressional staffers: Neil Volz on Monday, as well as Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon, who both worked for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
Abramoff and the three former congressional aides are now government witnesses whose prison terms may depend in part on how cooperative they are with federal prosecutors in the investigation involving lawmakers, their aides and members of the Bush administration.
“They’re singing for their supper,” Ney lawyer Mark Tuohey said. The lawyer said many of the allegations regarding Ney are incorrect and that “the government has been sold a bill of goods by Mr. Abramoff.”
Tuohey said Volz was under “extraordinary pressure” to assist the Justice Department probe.
Volz said he engaged in a conspiracy, the intent of which was “to influence members of Congress in violation of the law.”
In a nine-page document that focused on Ney’s conduct, Volz enumerated 16 actions he said his old boss took on behalf of Abramoff clients. During the period, from January 2000 through April 2004, Volz said Abramoff and his lobbyists gave Ney and members of his staff trips to Lake George in New York state, New Orleans, the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., in 2003, and a weeklong golfing retreat to the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, with a second leg to London.
In addition, Volz wrote, Abramoff gave the congressman and his staff numerous tickets to concerts and sporting events in the Washington, D.C., area; regular meals and drinks at restaurants including Abramoff’s restaurant Signatures, and unreported use of Abramoff’s box suites at the MCI Center Arena in Washington and Camden Yards Stadium in Baltimore for political fundraisers for Ney and for candidates and political organizations he supported.
Tuohey said the congressman and his staff paid their own expenses on the trips that were inside the United States and that the congressman is “not really” a golfer. Tuohey said Ney’s reason for going to Scotland was “because of the official business portion” _ a meeting with representatives of the Scottish Parliament and a separate meeting with U.S. military officials. A scheduled meeting with some representatives of the British Parliament did not occur.
Ney’s public filing for Scotland occurred two years after the trip, a delay that Ney’s legal team said stemmed from papers intended for the House clerk being misfiled or mislaid.
Volz, 35, worked for Ney from 1995 until early 2002, when he went to work for Abramoff. According to court papers when he was Ney’s chief of staff, Volz concealed gifts he got from Abramoff and his associates that were in excess of House limits; and that when he went to work for Abramoff, Volz violated the one-year ban on lobbying his old boss.
Are these accusations accurate? U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle asked Volz during a court proceeding.
“Yes, your honor,” Volz replied.
“Mr. Volz, how do you wish to plead?” asked the judge.
“Guilty, your honor,” Volz replied. Volz faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The court papers did not detail the conduct of other congressmen, but it said that Ney, acting with Volz and others, agreed to:
_Sponsor legislation to lift a ban against commercial gambling by the Tigua Indian tribe, an Abramoff client in Texas.
_Sign a letter opposing creation of a commission to study Indian gambling.
_Assist Abramoff in obtaining government property for Abramoff’s private school in Maryland.
The court papers also say that after asking Volz what Abramoff wanted the congressman to say, Ney assured the Tiguas in Texas that Abramoff was effectively representing them and that Ney would continue to press for legislation on their behalf.
In a 2003 meeting to assist Abramoff clients, Ney told Housing Secretary Mel Martinez that one of Ney’s priorities would be housing for American Indians.
Among the projects on which Volz worked was securing a contract for Foxcom Wireless, an Israeli communications company, to improve cell phone reception in House office buildings.
In a conference phone call with reporters, Ney’s lawyers acknowledged that the congressman met with Abramoff about a wireless contract for the House buildings. The lawyers added that Ney, then chairman of the House Administration Committee, also met with Haley Barbour, now the governor of Mississippi, who was lobbying for a competing firm at the time. Ney has said he would have been within his rights to award the contract on his own, but instead held an open competition and awarded it based on merit to the firm represented by Abramoff, Foxcom Wireless.
“The Department of Justice has now appeared in federal court four times and has been unable to even allege that Congressman Ney was bribed,” Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said in a defiant statement.
The conspiracy charge that Volz pleaded guilty to states that in exchange for a “stream of things of value” supplied to Ney, the congressman agreed to take favorable official action on behalf of clients of Abramoff and Volz.
Associated Press reporters Mark Sherman and David Hammer contributed to this story.
© 2006 The Associated Press