Defendant convicted in Abramoff scandal faces 7 years in prison

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The last remaining defendant in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal was convicted Thursday in a Washington federal court in what will likely prove to be the final trial stemming from the most notorious Capitol Hill corruption case in recent memory.

Fraser Verrusio, a former aide to Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, was convicted after a 10-day trial of illegally accepting from an Abramoff-linked lobbyist a free trip to the 2003 World Series in New York City that included a stop at a strip club. Verrusio, 41, was also convicted of failing to include the gift on mandatory financial-disclosure forms.

He is scheduled to be sentenced May 6 and the charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

“Mr. Verrusios conduct cuts against the thousands of government workers who live their lives by the ethical code they pledged to uphold,” said FBI Assistant Director James W. McJunkin, who heads the bureau’s Washington field office. “This case of public corruption serves as a reminder that misuse of position extends to all levels of government service.

“As seen here, accepting sporting tickets is influence peddling, no matter in what arena it occurs,” he said.

Verrusio was the last defendant to take his case to trial, though several figures in the case have yet to be sentenced.

With Thursday’s conviction, all 20 people charged in the investigation have been convicted. No one has been charged since 2009, but the Justice Department would not say whether the Abramoff investigation is officially closed.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in 2006 and recently completed a four-year sentence.

While the Justice Department counts the case as an overwhelming success, it was not without its hiccups. Justice agreed last year to allow a former high-level Labor Department political appointee during the Bush administration to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and receive probation after a judge called the case “troubling” and asked prosecutors to provide more evidence.

The department also chose not to seek charges against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who had been the highest-profile and most powerful target of the Abramoff investigation.

DeLay has since been convicted in a separate Texas state corruption case and sentenced to three years in prison. He is free on bond pending his appeals.

Verrusio was policy director for the House Transportation Committee, of which Mr. Young was the chairman, when he took the trip from a lobbyist representing a company seeking a favorable amendment to a federal highway bill.

According to the Justice Department, the nearly $1,300 all-expenses paid trip included round-trip commercial airline travel from Washington to New York City, use of a chauffeured Cadillac Escalade for transportation while in New York City, a ticket for Game One of the World Series, lodging, a steak dinner, drinks and entertainment at a strip club.

Prosecutors said the amendment to the highway bill, which ultimately did not pass, was discussed during the steak dinner.

According to the Associated Press, Verrusio maintained he did nothing illegal and that Capitol Hill aides and lawmakers commonly accepted travel provided by corporate sponsors with business before Congress. Verrusio attorney Joshua Berman suggested in closing arguments that FBI agents pursued his client because he refused to wear a hidden monitoring device in their investigation of Mr. Young and his connections to an Alaska businessman convicted of bribing state lawmakers.

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About the Author
Ben Conery

Ben Conery

Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...

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