- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the public, becoming the first member of Congress to admit peddling influence for convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Ney, who had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, admitted illegally receiving expensive trips, sports tickets and casino chips from Abramoff and an unidentified foreign businessman in exchange for trying to win favorable legislative results, according to court papers filed yesterday.

“I have made serious mistakes and am sorry for them. I am very sorry for the pain I have caused my family, my constituents in Ohio, and my colleagues,” said Ney, 52, a six-term congressman.

He also said he was seeking treatment for alcohol dependency, but that he is not “making any excuses.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said as part of the plea agreement prosecutors will recommend a 27-month sentence for crimes that could bring Ney 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Democrats immediately jumped on the election-year conviction and linked the Republican candidate vying to fill Ney’s seat to the disgraced congressman.

The Ohio Democratic Party complained that State Sen. Joy Padgett, who won a special Republican primary Thursday, has “extensive ties to” Ney and has been unwilling “to return Ney’s past campaign contributions.” She will face Democrat Zack Space in the fall.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it “confirms what we have long said: The Republican culture of corruption has pervaded Congress.”

The California Democrat also said House Republicans “have failed to pass a single substantive reform.”

Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mrs. Pelosi “is delusional to think that her party has even a shred of credibility on the issue of reform.”

“Capitol Hill Democrats have either resisted or tried to obstruct every substantive effort of reform in this Congress,” Mr. Madden said.

He also noted the top Democrat on the ethics panel, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia, had to resign because of ethics questions. Mr. Mollohan is under investigation for reputed misstatements on his financial disclosure forms.

Ney is pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, violating the one-year lobbying ban on congressional officials and making material false statements, and to one count of making false statements. He will remain free until an Oct. 13 hearing when he officially enters his guilty plea.

Prosecutors said Ney improperly accepted trips to play golf, gamble or vacation in Scotland, New Orleans and New York between August 2002 and August 2003. The total cost of the trips by Ney and others exceeded $170,000, court papers said.

Separately, Ney twice flew to London during 2003 to meet with a foreign businessman who was not identified by name in court papers.

The foreign businessman is Fouad al-Zayat, a Syrian-born partner in FN Aviation of Cyprus, two people close to the investigation told the Associated Press. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the plea agreement. Mr. al-Zayat is known in Britain as a prominent gambler nicknamed “the Fat Man.”

The February 2003 meeting with FN Aviation was arranged to discuss U.S. sanctions against the sale of aviation parts to Iran, but those involved did not discuss specific sales or proposals, according to one of the people familiar with the case.

The Justice Department said Ney on those trips accepted thousands of dollars’ worth of free casino chips from the foreign businessman and parlayed them into $50,000 in total gambling winnings playing card games.

Mr. al-Zayat could not be reached immediately for comment by the Associated Press.

The Justice Department said the foreign businessman and his partner sought Ney’s help in obtaining a travel visa and selling U.S.-made airplanes and parts to a foreign country, and that the businessman’s company paid for Ney’s trip to London in February 2003.

FN Aviation’s former U.S. lobbyists, Roy Coffee and David DiStefano — a former Ney aide, have said they worked with Ney to seek a special government permit to let FN Aviation sell plane parts to Iran despite U.S. trade sanctions. The permit never was awarded.

Ney’s named co-conspirators in the court papers include Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to mail fraud, former Capitol Hill public relations specialist Michael Scanlon, former lobbyist Tony Rudy, and Ney’s former chief of staff, Neil Volz.

Volz left Ney’s office in 2002 to join Abramoff’s powerful lobbying firm. The charge that Ney violated a one-year ban on lobbying by officials who leave Congress relates to Volz’s failure to wait a year before going to work for Abramoff.

In May, Volz pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to provide Ney with the trip to Scotland and other pricey gifts from Abramoff.

Scanlon pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to bribe public officials in connection with lobbying work on behalf of Indian tribes and casino issues. Rudy pleaded guilty in March to conspiring with Abramoff.

Democrats earlier this year focused heavily on Republican ethical problems, especially lambasting former Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

Mr. DeLay resigned his majority leader post and then his House seat after being indicted by a Texas prosecutor and seeing some of his aides convicted in the Abramoff scandal.

Prosecutors are looking at whether Mr. DeLay filed false public reports to disguise the source and size of political donations, travel and other gifts he received from special interests, including some with ties to Abramoff.

In a separate Justice Department corruption probe, Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, is being investigated on suspicion he accepted bribes. According to a search warrant affidavit, the FBI videotaped the congressman accepting $100,000 from an informant wearing a concealed microphone.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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