Ethics laws may come into play in trial of corrupt Bush aide

On the heels of their star witness’s description of how Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff got inside information from Bush administration executive David Safavian, prosecutors are going to compare Safavian’s behavior with federal ethics laws and regulations.

Prosecutors are prepared to call two ethics officers Wednesday from the General Services Administration, the government property management agency where Safavian was chief of staff before moving on to be the chief federal procurement officer.

In August 2002, ethics officers at the GSA permitted Safavian to go on a weeklong golf expedition to Scotland and London with Abramoff based on Safavian’s assertion that Abramoff had no business pending before the agency.

But a convicted lobbyist, Neil Volz, who was then a partner of Abramoff’s, testified in U.S. District Court on Tuesday that during the weeks before the lavish trip Safavian provided insider information and advice on how Abramoff could get GSA approval for two of his projects

Volz also outlined how the Abramoff team received assistance from several Republican congressmen or their aides, including Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio.

Ney, Capito and LaTourette issued renewed denials of any wrongdoing.

The government’s star witness against Safavian, Volz was a former chief of staff to Ney. Volz has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for some of the behavior about which he testified. Facing an 18- to 24-month prison sentence, he hopes cooperation with prosecutors will win him probation only.

Safavian, Ney and two members of Ney’s staff accompanied Abramoff, Volz and other Abramoff associates on an August 2002 golf trip to the famed St. Andrews course in Scotland and then to London. Volz said the bills for $500-a-night hotel rooms in London, $100 rounds of drinks, $400 rounds of golf, dinners and travel on a private Gulfstream jet were paid by Abramoff and his staff, and he never saw Safavian pay any expenses.

On cross examination, Safavian’s lawyer Barbara Van Gelder got Volz to acknowledge that Safavian told him in Scotland he was paying Abramoff $3,100 for his expenses.

Prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds used Volz’s descriptions of the costs to suggest the trip was far more expensive. Edmonds showed that Ney reported $1,200 in hotel expenses although Volz said Ney spent two nights in London in the Mandarin Hotel, which charged $500 a night for the congressional staff rooms, leaving only $200 to cover the cost of four nights at St. Andrews.

The Abramoff team sent Ney partially filled out draft financial disclosure forms for him to use in filing disclosures with Congress that falsely understated the total cost of the trip at $3,200, Volz testified.

“I thought that number passed the smell test,” Volz said, explaining that he hoped that reporters searching public records for travel abuses would pass right over it without asking questions.

In court, however, Edmonds pointed out that the official date stamp on Ney’s disclosure form, due within 30 days of the trip, showed it was not filed until September 2004, the same month news stories appeared about the trip.

Volz testified that Safavian, who is charged with lying to investigators about assisting his ex-partner Abramoff, was referred to by the Abramoff team as a “champion” because he could get inside information not otherwise available to lobbyists.

Volz described advice Safavian provided on how to get GSA to sell land in Silver Spring, Md., to a school Abramoff had founded and on how to get preferential treatment for an Abramoff client, the Chitimacha Indian tribe, in the GSA’s redevelopment of the Old Post Office here.

Ney is under criminal investigation in the Abramoff probe. Abramoff entered guilty pleas early this year in Washington, D.C., and Florida.

© 2006 The Associated Press