Ex-aide to DeLay enters guilty plea

Deputy chief of staff admits conspiracy role


WASHINGTON -- A second former top aide to Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay pleaded guilty yesterday in the widening influence-peddling scandal surrounding fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff - one more sign that prosecutors are continuing to build a case that could ensnare one or more members of Congress, including the former House majority leader.

Tony Rudy, DeLay's one-time deputy chief of staff, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a single charge of conspiracy in connection with the scandal, admitting that he trafficked in cash, gifts and other favors both while working in the leadership office and after leaving government to lobby his old acquaintances for Abramoff and his clients.

The agreement by Rudy, 39, to cooperate with prosecutors follows a similar deal struck in November with DeLay's former press secretary. It indicates progress in the Justice Department's effort to tunnel deeper into the congressional bribery scandal that Abramoff ignited.

In particular, the Rudy plea signals further trouble for Ohio Republican Bob Ney, who was previously identified as being a recipient of Abramoff largesse and who is mentioned anew - albeit anonymously - in Rudy's agreement with prosecutors.

A lawyer for DeLay said yesterday that he had supplied investigators looking into the scandal with more than 100 e-mails from DeLay's congressional office as well as other information. But the lawyer continued to assert that his client was innocent and said that he had been told several months ago that DeLay was not a target of the investigation.

Some of the information he supplied might have been used by prosecutors to force the former aides to the plea bargaining table.

"Tom DeLay has said for several months now that he has never taken an official position, never cast a vote, based on anything other than his strong, principled beliefs in Republican philosophy and conservative government," said his lawyer, Richard Cullen.

Rudy's plea agreement offers another look into how Abramoff became deeply invested in congressional staffers, although it largely repeats the pattern of dealings that surfaced earlier, including documents laying out Abramoff's agreement in January to plead guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges.

In effect, Rudy admitted being on Abramoff `s payroll even before he left government to work for the lobbyist at his high-flying practice at the D.C. law and lobbying firm of Greenberg Traurig.

Much of the money was funneled through a company that he set up for his wife to provide consulting services. As part of the deal her husband struck with prosecutors, the government agreed not to prosecute Lisa Rudy in exchange for her cooperation in the continuing probe.

Rudy admitted receiving a bounty of perks from Abramoff, including $86,000 in cash, tickets to sporting events and golf trips. In return, Rudy acknowledged, he helped secure legislative relief for Abramoff clients, ranging from stalling Internet gambling legislation to helping tie up a postal rate increase.

The illegal conspiracy continued after he left his job on Capitol Hill in December 2000 to join forces with Abramoff, where he lavished gifts and trips on a member of Congress described in his plea agreement as "Representative 1." The activities and official acts match those of Ney.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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