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Ney will cop a plea

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September 15, 2006

Abandoning months of defiant denials, Rep. Bob Ney intends to admit guilt in the congressional corruption probe spawned by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to Republican officials.

Ney, R-Ohio, is expected to plead guilty to at least one criminal charge, possibly by the end of the day Friday, these officials said, and become the first lawmaker to admit wrongdoing in the election-year investigation.

The officials spoke late Thursday on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to pre-empt court proceedings.

Neither Ney nor Justice Department officials could be reached for comment.

The Republican officials said they were not certain whether Ney intended to admit guilt to more than one charge, or precisely what offense would be involved in any plea agreement. They said a prison sentence was a possibility.

Two officials said Ney would admit to having filed a false disclosure report with the House in connection with an infamous golfing trip to Scotland in 2002 that Abramoff paid for.

Ney’s lawyers have said previously the lawmaker went to Scotland for an official meeting with representatives of the Scottish Parliament.

Ney’s public filing for the trip occurred two years later, a consequence, his lawyers say, stemming from papers intended for the House clerk being misfiled.

The 52-year-old congressman did not participate in any of the 10 roll call votes in the House on Thursday, an indication that he was away from the Capitol.

Republican voters in Ney’s district selected a replacement candidate Thursday as word of the legal developments surfaced. State Sen. Joy Padgett, backed by party leaders, won easily and will face Democrat Zack Space in the fall.

Ney has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the investigation, an insistence that he maintained even after his former chief of staff pleaded guilty in May. The aide, Neil Volz, confessed to conspiring to corrupt the congressman and others with trips and other aid. Volz became a business partner of Abramoff after leaving the congressional payroll.

Ney had a unique power perch in the House when the year dawned, as chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the internal workings of the 435-member House. Speaker Dennis Hastert pressured Ney into surrendering his committee chairmanship earlier this year as concern rippled through the GOP ranks about the Abramoff scandal.

Still, as recently as early summer, Ney said he intended to seek re-election in the sprawling, rural district in eastern Ohio he has represented since 1994. He changed his mind at the prodding of party leaders who feared the loss of his seat in November if he remained on the ballot.

Any guilty plea almost recently would renew Democratic charges of a Republican “culture of corruption” in the House.

While Ney would become the first member of Congress to plead guilty in the probe, a second lawmaker, Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., is at the center of a separate investigation involving alleged bribery. He has not been charged and denies all wrongdoing.

In addition to Abramoff and Volz, the scandal has produced guilty pleas by two former congressional aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay resigned from Congress earlier in the year. He has not been charged in the federal investigation, but is under indictment on state charges in Texas in a different case. He denied all wrongdoing.

Prosecutors also won a conviction in the Abramoff case against former White House official David Safavian, formerly the Bush administration’s top procurement official.

At Safavian’s recent trial, prosecutors introduced a photograph of Ney and Abramoff standing next to a private jet that whisked them and other members to a golf outing in Scotland. Also in the photo were two of Ney’s aides who went on the weeklong Abramoff-organized junket.

When Volz pleaded guilty in May, he listed 16 actions he said his old boss had taken on behalf of Abramoff’s clients from January 2000 through April 2004. During that period, Abramoff and his lobbying team showered Ney with campaign donations, trips, meals at Abramoff’s restaurant and tickets to sporting events and concerts.

In 2000, Ney read remarks into the Congressional Record helpful to Abramoff, who was trying to acquire a Florida casino cruise-ship company.

In 2002, Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay aide who has pleaded guilty in the scandal, promised an Indian tribe that Ney would champion legislation to reopen a tribal casino. When evidence surfaced that Abramoff had bilked the Indian tribe, Ney said, “How did I know what they were charging their clients?”

Ney said he supported the provision to help the Tigua Indian tribe of Texas reopen its casino after Abramoff told him that Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., supported the effort, which Dodd said he had no knowledge of. Ney said the Scotland golf trip had nothing to do with the tribal legislation.

Ney also met with Abramoff about a wireless contract for House office buildings, then awarded the contract to the company the lobbyist represented. The congressman said the award was based on merit through open competition.

Ney said he had been duped into helping Abramoff on both the tribal casino and the Florida deal, and that he was duped again about who paid for the Scotland trip. Abramoff denied misleading Ney.

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On the Net:

Ney’s congressional Web site: http://ney.house.gov