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Lawmaker Pleads Guilty to Corruption

Ohio Republican Ney admits accepting illegal gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

September 16, 2006|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In court documents, he was known only as "Representative 1," an anonymous member of the House who always seemed to have his hand out when super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff came calling for favors for his clients.

On Friday, the lawmaker, Ohio Republican Bob Ney, officially emerged from the shadows and acknowledged his guilt.

Ending months of denials that he had betrayed the public trust, the politician once known as "the Mayor of Capitol Hill" agreed to plead guilty to federal corruption charges.

Ney, 52, admitted in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors filed in federal court in Washington that he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in illegal favors from Abramoff and from a Syrian businessman nicknamed "the Fat Man."

The lawmaker said he had agreed to use his clout on behalf of Abramoff clients in return for gifts and other largesse that included nights of casino gambling in London and a lavish golf junket to Scotland. In a statement, he said that alcohol abuse had contributed to a downward spiral in his life, and that he had checked himself into a rehabilitation facility for treatment.

Prosecutors said they would recommend a sentence for Ney of 27 months in prison, although his crimes carry a maximum penalty of up to 10 years. He is expected to formally enter his plea at a hearing in federal district court in Washington on Oct. 13.

The six-term Republican is the first lawmaker to admit to criminal actions as part of the lengthy Justice Department probe of Abramoff, once one of Washington's most influential lobbyists.

The plea agreement also marked the latest fallout from an ongoing Justice Department crackdown on corruption in the capital that has focused attention on members of both parties, including Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), who is being investigated for bribery. That probe, which does not involve Abramoff, gained nationwide notoriety after Jefferson was allegedly caught with cash from an FBI sting in his freezer.

The Abramoff investigation, which mostly involves Republicans, has led to the conviction of several former congressional aides who were in the lobbyist's inner circle. It also was a key factor in the political downfall of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who once worked closely with Abramoff and who resigned his congressional seat in June.

Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in January, is continuing to cooperate with authorities. He and his clients lavished tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions on scores of lawmakers.

But aside from the political scandal created by the case, it remained uncertain whether other elected officials would join Ney in facing legal problems from it.

Although Ney has long been viewed as likely to face charges, evidence of possible wrongdoing by some of his colleagues has not seemed as strong. Moreover, his own plea agreement with authorities does not require him to point fingers and cooperate in the investigation.

Democrats seized on Ney's plea agreement to buttress their argument that the Republicans who control Congress have shown themselves unfit to lead.

Ney's guilty plea "confirms what we have long said: The Republican culture of corruption has pervaded" Capitol Hill, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

Republicans said Ney should be held accountable, but that his misdeeds were an isolated matter that should not be used to taint his GOP colleagues.

"Clearly, Bob made mistakes, and he is now feeling the full weight of those mistakes," said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Ney, in a statement issued through his lawyers, expressed remorse.

"I have made serious mistakes and am sorry for them," he said. "I know that this plea agreement will probably forever change the way people view my public service. I regret this very much."

He said he has gone through a great deal of soul searching recently, and has "come to recognize that a dependence on alcohol has been a problem for me. I am not making any excuses, and I take full responsibility for my actions."

Before becoming ensnared in scandal, Ney headed the House Administration Committee, the post that earned him his nickname. Although the panel rarely makes news, it controls House office budgets -- making it vitally important to other lawmakers.

Nudged by GOP leaders, Ney resigned the chairmanship this year. And he announced last month that he would not seek reelection in November.

Ney agreed to plead guilty to two charges, including conspiring with Abramoff and others to commit "honest services fraud," a form of corruption that is considered less serious than bribery. He also admitted that he made false statements in reporting gifts he received.

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