- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

The former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, pleaded guilty yesterday to participating in an illegal lobbying conspiracy centered around the activities of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Neil G. Volz admitted in District of Columbia federal court to conspiring both as a member of Mr. Ney’s staff and later as a lobbyist working under Abramoff, making him the third former congressional aide to plead guilty in the scandal.

Volz faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said the penalties could vary depending on how helpful Volz is in the government’s ongoing investigation of influence peddling involving lawmakers, their aides and members of the Bush administration.

Mr. Ney, who accompanied Abramoff on a golf trip to Scotland in 2002, has not been charged in the Justice Department’s widening probe into the scandal. Nor have any other members of Congress.

Responding to the Volz pleading yesterday, Mr. Ney’s office said that if he is charged, the congressman “will not under any circumstances plead guilty to a crime that he did not commit.”

“Congressman Ney has said from Day One that he has done absolutely nothing illegal, improper or unethical,” said Ney communications director Brian Walsh. “While the real facts of these matters await to reveal themselves, the congressman has every intention of continuing his work representing the people of Ohio’s 18th District and running a vigorous campaign for re-election.”

Two former aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, previously pleaded guilty to roles in the conspiracy. Abramoff pleaded guilty to counts of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy related to lavishing lawmakers with luxury trips, fundraisers and campaign contributions.

Mr. DeLay resigned as majority leader in September after a Texas grand jury indicted him and two associates on charges of conspiracy in fundraising. He maintains his innocence.

Volz, meanwhile, served as Mr. Ney’s chief of staff until 2002, when he went to work for Abramoff. Mr. Ney yesterday said he has “always considered Neil Volz my friend, and while I am very saddened to see what has happened today, I also understand that Neil has been under tremendous pressure from the government.”

“For a young man like Neil, it is virtually impossible to have the financial resources to adequately defend yourself against the federal government,” he said.

Mr. Walsh said “it is neither uncommon nor inappropriate for members of Congress to stay in touch with former staffers, especially when they are friends as Neil and the congressman were.”

Mark Touhey, an attorney for Mr. Ney, said Volz’s guilty plea should not be read as implicating Mr. Ney.

“There is no factual basis to charge Congressman Ney and we will vigorously defend this,” he said.

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