Aide named in Abramoff investigation avoids prison

A former congressional aide named in the Jack Abramoff scandal avoided prison Thursday when a federal judge questioned why lawmakers tied to the convicted superlobbyist had successfully skirted prosecution while many of their staffers ended up in prison.

Prosecutors had recommended that John Albaugh, former chief of staff to Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, be sentenced to more than two years in prison in an influence peddling scheme, but U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle rejected the proposal.

Instead, Albaugh — who admitted to helping steer funding to Abramoff’s clients after his firm helped raise campaign donations for Mr. Istook — was given five years’ probation and four months in a halfway house in Colorado Springs, where he works for nonprofit Morning Star Development.

Judge Huvelle, in handing down the sentence, also declined to establish a fine or order community service, noting that Albaugh, a father of three who once made six figures on Capitol Hill, was paid $24,000 last year working to provide assistance in Afghanistan with fundraising and communications.

Former Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, is the only member of Congress charged in the Abramoff investigation, which had promised a wide-ranging inquiry on Capitol Hill into suspected schemes involving gifts and other rewards for political favors.

Ney was sentenced in January 2007 by Judge Huvelle to 30 months in prison for providing political favors to Abramoff in exchange for expensive trips, sports and concerts tickets, and casino chips.

At sentencing, Judge Huvelle told Ney that as a member of Congress, he had “a responsibility to set an example.”

Federal prosecutors had focused on Mr. Istook during the investigation, even asking Albaugh to secretly record conversations he had with the congressman. But prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds declined to answer Judge Huvelle’s question about why charges were never brought against Mr. Istook, who left Congress in 2007 after an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign and now works at the Heritage Foundation.

Judge Huvelle said she was concerned that “higher ups” had walked away.

“The people that really benefited from this scheme, with one exception, aren’t the people in front of me,” she said.

Albaugh told the judge the “corrupt” methods he used to help Mr. Istook’s career pained him deeply, adding that he and the congressman discussed the fact that lobbyists were an obvious source of cash for the money they needed to run for the Senate.

He said the Abramoff team raised tens of thousands of dollars and used luxury boxes to host fundraisers for Mr. Istook.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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