- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

A former congressional aide who also worked at the Labor Department and the government’s broadcasting service has become the latest public official to be ensnared in a corruption scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Horace M. Cooper, 44, was accused Friday of taking thousands of dollars in gifts from Abramoff between 1998 and 2005.

Authorities say Mr. Cooper first began receiving gifts while working for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. He is accused of continuing to accept gifts while working as chief of staff for the Voice of America broadcasting service and as chief of staff for the Employment Standards Administration of the Labor Department.

Mr. Cooper faces charges of conspiracy, fraudulent concealment, false statements and obstruction of an official proceeding. The charges carry a maximum of 40 years in prison. He is expected to appear Sept. 9 in federal court in Washington.

“Horace Copper is innocent,” his lawyer, Solomon L. Wisenberg, said Friday. “We are very disappointed the Department of Justice decided to go forward with these charges, and we intend to fight them vigorously in a court of law.”

Mr. Cooper is a frequent op-ed contributor to various media outlets, including The Washington Times.

Abramoff is serving a four-year prison sentence and cooperating with authorities. So far, 20 people have been charged as part of the scandal, many of whom have been convicted.

Mr. Cooper is accused of taking thousands of dollars worth of free meals at restaurants that Abramoff owned.

In at least one instance, according to the indictment, Mr. Cooper was charged $141 for a meal at one of Abramoff’s restaurants, Signatures.

“I think there may have been a little glitch at the restaurant on Friday,” Mr. Cooper wrote in a 2002 e-mail to Abramoff, according to the indictment. “I went there and gave my credit card and it was charged. It’s no big deal, but I thought I’d let you know.”

Authorities say Abramoff told Mr. Cooper he would be reimbursed for those charges and wouldn’t receive any future bills at the restaurant. Abramoff also made that clear to others involved with running Signatures.

“I did not want [Cooper] charged for meals where he is paying,” Abramoff wrote in an e-mail to colleagues involved with running the restaurant. “I am doing a huge deal with [Cooper] and want to comp [Cooper].”

Authorities say Abramoff also gave Mr. Cooper tickets to see the Washington Redskins, Washington Capitals and Baltimore Orioles, as well as to concerts of Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks and others.

But authorities say these gifts weren’t free.

In exchange for the gifts, authorities contend, Mr. Cooper helped Abramoff secure federal money from the Voice of America and the State Department for a television production business Abramoff had formed. While Mr. Cooper was working at the Labor Department, authorities say, he helped Abramoff while Abramoff’s client, a garment manufacturer, was under investigation for its wage and hour practices.

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