- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2010

A well-known conservative commentator and former high-level Labor Department political appointee charged in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single misdemeanor count after the government’s case against him began to unravel.

Horace M. Cooper, 44, was indicted last year on five felony counts, including charges of conspiracy, fraudulent concealment, false statements and obstruction of an official proceeding.

In total, he faced 40 years in prison. Mr. Cooper is now unlikely to spend a day in jail.

“My family and I are so grateful that this ordeal is over,” he said in a statement released by his attorneys. “It will be so good to get this whole thing behind me.”

Mr. Cooper’s plea agreement with prosecutors calls for him to receive between no time and six months in jail. The government said it would not be opposed to a sentence on the lenient side. The agreement does not require Mr. Cooper to cooperate with authorities in what the government has described as the ongoing Abramoff probe.

Sentencing in the case is scheduled for July 1.

Mr. Cooper’s guilty plea was to a single count of failing to include on financial-disclosure forms sporting tickets he received in 2003 from Abramoff and Neil G. Volz, another lobbyist. At the time, Mr. Cooper worked as chief of staff for the Labor Department’s Employment Standards Administration, and Abramoff and Mr. Volz were doing business with the department.

Abramoff is serving a four-year prison sentence on corruption charges; Mr. Volz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest-services fraud and was sentenced in September 2007 to two years’ probation.

Of the 19 people convicted in connection with the Abramoff affair, Mr. Cooper is one of only two to be convicted of a misdemeanor. The other, lobbyist Roger Stillwell, was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor because he offered significant cooperation with prosecutors.

The prosecution’s case against Mr. Cooper became uncertain last month after U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in Washington, D.C., dismissed the false-statement charge and called elements of the case “troubling.”

She ordered prosecutors to produce greater detail about the allegations against Mr. Cooper, including what exactly he took from Abramoff and what Mr. Cooper was expected to provide in return.

In response, Mr. Cooper’s attorneys said, the government offered to drop the case if Mr. Cooper would plead guilty to a single misdemeanor count.

“It’s certainly uncommon to get a misdemeanor plea,” said Ryan Malone, one of Mr. Cooper’s attorneys.

Mr. Cooper is a frequent Op-Ed contributor to media outlets, including The Washington Times. He worked for Dick Armey, the Texas Republican who was House majority leader, and as chief of staff for the Voice of America broadcasting service.

He was initially accused of taking thousands of dollars worth of free meals at restaurants that Abramoff owned.

In at least one instance, according to the indictment, Mr. Cooper was charged $141 for a meal at one of Abramoff’s restaurants, Signatures.

“I think there may have been a little glitch at the restaurant on Friday,” Mr. Cooper wrote in a 2002 e-mail to Abramoff, according to the indictment. “I went there and gave my credit card, and it was charged. It’s no big deal, but I thought I’d let you know.”

Authorities said Abramoff told Mr. Cooper he would be reimbursed for those charges and wouldn’t receive any future bills at the restaurant. Abramoff also made that clear to others involved with running Signatures, according to the indictment.

“I did not want Cooper charged for meals where he is paying,” Abramoff wrote in an e-mail to colleagues at the restaurant. “I am doing a huge deal with Cooper and want to comp Cooper.”

Authorities say Abramoff also gave Mr. Cooper tickets to see the Washington Redskins, Washington Capitals and Baltimore Orioles, as well as to concerts of Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks and others.

But authorities said these gifts weren’t free. In exchange, prosecutors contended, Mr. Cooper helped Abramoff secure federal money from the Voice of America for a television-production business Abramoff had formed. While Mr. Cooper was working at the Labor Department, authorities say, he helped Abramoff while Abramoff’s client, a garment manufacturer, was under investigation for its wage-and-hour practices.

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