- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A one-time top aide to former Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma pleaded guilty Monday to a conspiracy to defraud the House as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

John Albaugh admitted in federal court in the District that he accepted meals and sports and concert tickets, along with other perks, from lobbyists in exchange for official favors.

Albaugh, 41, is the latest in a string of more than a dozen former government officials and lobbyists to plead guilty in the scandal involving members of Congress, their aides and Bush administration officials. He faces 18 to 24 months in prison, but that sentence could be reduced based on his continued cooperation with the government’s investigation.

“Mr. Albaugh decided to accept the government’s proposal and move on with his life,” his attorney Jeffrey Jacobovitz said after the hearing before U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle. “He deeply regrets and accepts full responsibility for his involvement in these matters and their impact upon his family and the community.”

During the eight years that Albaugh worked as chief of staff to Mr. Istook, the congressman accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates. Mr. Istook has not been charged with any wrongdoing and is now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in the District.

Mr. Istook said Monday that he was “as surprised and as shocked as anyone” at the case.

“I have not seen the charges and I have no information about them,” Mr. Istook said. “I have met with the FBI. They did not share any details about the case, but they told me I am not a target of their investigation. I will continue to cooperate fully.”

Referred to as “Representative 4” in court documents, Mr. Istook used the lobbyist’s skybox tickets for concerts. He later donated the campaign money to charity and paid for the seats.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to bribing lawmakers to support policies that helped his clients, including American Indian tribes.

Mr. Istook was among 33 lawmakers who accepted Abramoff-related money and wrote letters urging the Bush administration to reject a casino proposal that Abramoff’s clients opposed. He has said the letter was consistent with his position against gambling and unrelated to the campaign contributions.

Abramoff is serving prison time for a fraudulent Florida casino deal and is still awaiting sentencing in his scheme to bribe public officials in Washington. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to become a witness against the Washington power brokers he once treated to lavish meals, golf vacations and money.

Though Mr. Istook’s congressional campaign had to repay one of Abramoff’s companies for the use of skyboxes for an “American Idol” concert and a Washington Redskins football game, he has repeatedly denied any ties to the disgraced lobbyist.

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