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Ney Enters Guilty Plea in Bribery Case

The Ohio congressman will be out of office by his January sentencing. He may get at least two years in jail for dealings with Jack Abramoff.

October 14, 2006|Johanna Neuman and Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) pleaded guilty Friday to bribery charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation, becoming the first sitting congressman to confess to taking bribes in the scandal that continues to reverberate through the Republican-controlled Congress.

"I accept responsibility for my actions, and I am prepared to face the consequences of what I have done," Ney said in a statement distributed to reporters outside a federal courthouse.

Before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, Ney pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. A month ago, in a plea agreement with prosecutors, Ney admitted that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in illegal gifts and other largesse that included nights of casino gambling in London and a lavish golf junket to Scotland.

In return, Ney acknowledged, he used his legislative clout to do favors for Abramoff and for a Syrian businessman nicknamed the "Fat Man."

Sentencing is set for Jan. 19, by which time Ney, who is not seeking reelection, would no longer be serving in Congress. Some on Capitol Hill speculated that Ney, who has mounting legal bills, might try to stay in office a few more weeks to maintain a salary. Members of Congress earn at least $165,000 a year.

Ney's lawyer told the judge that the congressman would resign his seat in the next few weeks.

But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), already feeling political heat over the page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, could be pressured to push Ney from his committee seats when Congress reconvenes for a special session after the Nov. 7 election.

And House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) announced that he would introduce a resolution expelling Ney from the House as soon as Congress returns.

"Bob Ney has brought shame to himself and disgraced the Congress by betraying the bond entrusted to him as a public official," Sensenbrenner said. "No one -- Democrat or Republican -- should remain a member of the people's House after being convicted of criminal conduct while in office."

At the White House on Friday, Press Secretary Tony Snow signaled the distance the GOP will try to put between themselves and Ney in the run-up to the midterm election, where several major polls indicate voters are leaning Democratic.

"He ought to resign," Snow said. "What Congressman Ney did is not a reflection of the Republican Party, it's a reflection of Congressman Ney."

The 52-year-old Ney -- a six-term Republican -- could face a maximum prison term of 10 years, but Huvelle said prosectors were recommending 27 months. She said federal guidelines suggest he should be fined $5,000 to $60,000.

Ney left the courtroom Friday without speaking to reporters. On reaching a plea agreement last month, he said that alcohol abuse had contributed to a downward spiral in his life, and that he had checked himself into a rehab facility for treatment.

"A dependence on alcohol has been a problem for me," he said then. "I am not making any excuses, and I take full responsibility for my actions."

Until the Abramoff scandal, Ney was best known nationally for renaming the French fries in the House cafeteria "freedom fries" after France refused to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq. "This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," he said in March 2003.

After Ney announced he would not seek reelection, Republicans in Ohio's 18th district held a special primary in September, nominating state Sen. Joy Padgett.

She faces Democrat Zack Space in a district that was once represented by Wayne Hays, the chairman of the House Administration Committee who resigned in 1976 after a much-publicized sex scandal involving his secretary Elizabeth Ray, who admitted, "I can't type. I can't file. I can't even answer the phone."

johanna.neuman@latimes.com

rick.schmitt@latimes.com

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