- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty today in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation, the first lawmaker to confess to crimes in an election-year scandal that has stained the Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration.

Standing before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, Ney pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. He acknowledged taking money, gifts and favors in return for official actions on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.

“I never intended my career in public service to end this way, and I am ashamed it did,” he said in a written statement issued moments later.

The 52-year-old lawmaker faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. Huvelle said prosecutors had agreed to recommend a term of 27 months, and said federal guidelines suggest a fine of between $5,000 and $60,000.

Despite his guilty pleas, Ney did not resign his seat in Congress. Several officials have said the congressman is financially strapped and needs his $165,200 annual paycheck and benefits as long as he can continue to receive them.

House Republican leaders vowed to expel Ney as the Congress’ first order of business after the elections.

Ney’s lawyer, Mark Touhey, told the judge he would resign before sentencing on Jan. 19. Under the Constitution, he’ll be gone before then. His term expires when the new Congress is sworn in at noon on Jan. 3.

Ney is the latest in a string of once-influential men convicted in a scandal that so far has caught several lobbyists and two members of the Bush administration.

Abramoff, the Republican super-lobbyist, admitted guilt in January after secretly cooperating with prosecutors for weeks.

Two former aides to Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, have also pleaded guilty, as has Ney’s former chief of staff.

Additionally, Roger Stillwell, a former Interior Department official, pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor charge for not reporting tickets he received from Abramoff.

And former White House official David Safavian, who had been the Bush administration’s top procurement official, was convicted of covering up his dealings with Abramoff. He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 27.

Ney confessed his wrongdoing in a federal courthouse a few blocks distant from the Capitol, where until recently he wielded a chairman’s gavel.

The Ohio Republican did not speak with reporters as he entered or left the building. It was his first public appearance since quietly entering an alcohol rehabilitation program last month.

The written statement referred to that. “The treatment and counseling I have started have been very helpful, but I know that I am not done yet and that I have more work to do to deal with my alcohol dependency,” he said.

It also read like a cautionary tale for others who might be tempted by the allure of the Capital. “I never acted to enrich myself or to get things I shouldn’t, but over time, I allowed myself to get too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington DC for too long,” it said.

Inside the courtroom, Huvelle spent nearly a half-hour asking the sandy-haired congressman a series of questions about whether he understood the charges and agreed that he had taken money, gifts and favors in return for official actions on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.

At the end she asked him how he pleaded to the conspiracy count, he replied, “I plead guilty your honor.”

Asked how he pleaded to the count of false statements, he replied, “I plead guilty, your honor.”

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