- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

ZANESVILLE, Ohio (AP) — The groundskeeper at the Muskingum County Courthouse in the middle of Rep. Bob Ney’s sprawling eastern Ohio district was thinking of cutting more than just the bushes.

Robbie Frame, a 27-year-old Republican, was considering ending his consistent vote for Mr. Ney, the six-term congressman who handily won his Republican Party primary last week despite a widening ethics scandal that has snared his former chief of staff.

Neil G. Volz pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to corrupt Mr. Ney, his staff and other members of Congress with trips, free tickets, meals, jobs for relatives and campaign events.

Volz was the fourth person convicted in the criminal investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s operation, along with Abramoff and two former congressional staffers who worked for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

Longtime Ney backers, including Mr. Frame, say they might drop their support if the scandal touches the congressman himself.

“If he’s guilty, he’s guilty,” Mr. Frame said Monday as he pruned a Japanese maple outside the courthouse.

Other Republican voters in this reliably Republican area said they are standing behind Mr. Ney, whom Democrats and even some Republicans consider vulnerable. The opinion gained strength when a little-known runner-up took a third of the vote in Mr. Ney’s first primary test in a decade.

Joan Klies, 61, from nearby Chandlersville, said she has voted for Mr. Ney since his first election in 1994 and hopes he will emerge unscathed. “I like the man. I want him to be innocent,” she said.

Mr. Ney, 51, has not been charged and says he was duped by Abramoff, who reportedly has told authorities he obtained Mr. Ney’s help in exchange for gifts. Mr. Ney’s office issued a statement Monday criticizing the Justice Department, calling Volz’s plea agreement “thin at best.”

In a nine-page document that focused on Mr. Ney’s conduct, Volz described 16 actions he said his old boss took on behalf of Abramoff clients. From January 2000 through April 2004, Volz said, Abramoff and his lobbyists gave Mr. Ney and members of his staff trips to Lake George in New York state; New Orleans; the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., in 2003; and a weeklong golfing retreat to the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, with a second leg to London.

Ney attorney Mark Tuohey said the congressman and his staff paid their expenses on the domestic trips and that Mr. Ney went to Scotland to meet separately with representatives of the Scottish Parliament and U.S. military.

Mr. Tuohey disputed many of the accusations and said “the government has been sold a bill of goods by Mr. Abramoff.”

Abramoff and the three former aides are now government witnesses whose prison terms may depend on their cooperation.

In the November election, Mr. Ney faces Democrat Zack Space, who has left no doubt the lobbying scandal is the focus of his campaign.

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