- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell has referred a potentially criminal salary-kickback scheme discovered in his office to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics for a full investigation.

The Colorado Republican recently discovered that his chief of staff, Ginnie Kontnik, admitted giving a staffer, Brian D. Thompson, a substantial raise in October 2002 so that he could give her $2,000 in return.

Mr. Campbell issued a press release Friday on his Web site stating that Mrs. Kontnik had resigned from her position in his office.

“I wish Ginnie well on her new pursuits and sincerely thank her for her many years of service,” Mr. Campbell said.

Mrs. Kontnik has worked for the sole American Indian senator on Capitol Hill since 1992 and resigned citing her desire to spend more time in Colorado and to pursue other employment opportunities.

“I am proud to have played a role in the many positive things that Senator Campbell has achieved for the people of Colorado,” Mrs. Kontnik said. “It is with a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I tender my resignation.”

But a call made by The Washington Times yesterday to Mr. Campbell’s main office in the Denver suburb of Englewood revealed that she was in fact still working there.

She did not return a message left for her by The Washington Times.

A call to Mr. Campbell’s office on Capitol Hill regarding Mrs. Kontnik’s last official day was returned.

“Senator Campbell does not discuss personnel matters with the press,” said Kate Dando, a spokeswoman for Mr. Campbell.

She went on to say, “Senator Campbell takes the allegations very seriously and will turn the matter over to the Senate ethics committee immediately.”

Mrs. Kontnik told the Denver Post that the senator was aware of the transaction and that the money was used to pay Senate and political expenses that she had personally incurred. Thus, she said, she did not profit.

The admission has raised several questions about the interworking of Mr. Campbell’s office. Currently, Mr. Campbell is in the middle of his re-election campaign seeking his third term.

Mrs. Kontnik’s resignation would make it nearly impossible for the ethics committee to delve into a thorough investigation.

The ethics committee has jurisdiction solely over persons on the Senate payroll, according to its Web site. Officials of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics would not comment on the matter.

But the accusations may have legs in the criminal prosecutorial arena.

Former Ohio Democratic Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. was convicted in 2002 of taking payroll kickbacks from staffers, among other charges.

Traficant denied any wrongdoing, but in a unanimous vote by the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee was removed in July of that year.

A criminal investigation would be handled by the Justice Department, but officials there also would not comment.

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