Former top Ney aide pleads guilty in influence peddling

Court papers say Ohio Republican took orders from lobbyist Abramoff


WASHINGTON -- Court documents filed yesterday by federal prosecutors say Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, repeatedly performed official acts for, or at the behest of, convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for trips, tickets, meals and other gifts.

The allegations were detailed as part of a guilty plea to corruption charges by a former top aide to the Ohio lawmaker, Neil G. Volz. Though the filings do not charge Ney with a crime, major portions of the plea agreement spell out in new detail how prosecutors say the former aide got the congressman to do Abramoff's bidding.

According to prosecutors, Volz, Abramoff and their colleagues simply worked out what they wanted Ney to do or say, Volz told Ney what to do or say, and then the congressman did what they asked. This allegedly included work on legislation sought or opposed by Abramoff clients.

Volz, who worked under Ney for seven years before going to work for Abramoff, took illegal gifts while a federal employee and dispensed such to Ney and his former colleagues once he became a lobbyist, prosecutors said.

Ney is referred to in the plea agreement only as "Representative 1," but his lawyers acknowledge that is a reference to Ney.

If indicted, Ney would be the first member of Congress charged in the lobbying scandal that has engulfed Capitol Hill.

Ney, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, issued another denial yesterday stating that Volz was "under tremendous pressure from the government" and that he was "saddened" at the day's developments.

Ney's press secretary, Brian Walsh, said the congressman "has said from day one that he has done absolutely nothing illegal" and that he would continue his campaign for re-election. Ney has said he was duped by Abramoff.

Ney's lawyers repeatedly asserted that any actions taken by Ney were in line with his official duties and were not done in return for bribes or gratuities. Many of the charges, said Mark Tuohey, "are simply not true."

Court documents filed yesterday, however, cite instances in which Volz admits engaging in illegal acts, such as soliciting bribes or taking trips, with Ney's "knowledge and consent." They include soliciting four tickets to a U2 concert from another former Ney aide, Tony C. Rudy, who has pleaded guilty to related charges. Volz gave the tickets "to himself and others," prosecutors said.

Volz, 35, Ney's former communications director, was serving as staff director to a committee that Ney chaired when he went to work for Abramoff in early 2002. Abramoff, who also has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and related tax charges, is awaiting sentencing in the continuing investigation.

Under his plea deal, Volz admitted conspiring to corruptly influence a public official and violating a law barring congressional aides from lobbying their former employers within a year of leaving public office. Though he could face a five-year prison term, he is likely to get a much lesser term contingent on his promised continued cooperation with federal investigators.

The plea deal was formalized yesterday before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who has presided over three related plea agreements, including Abramoff's.

In addition to a previously disclosed Ney golfing trip to Scotland, the plea agreement states, Volz, Abramoff and others arranged for Ney to take a trip to a Lake George resort in New York in 2003, get regular food and drink at Abramoff's restaurants, and use luxury suites at sporting and concert events.

"Representative 1 [Ney] and others performed official acts for or at the behest of Abramoff and others, which were motivated in part by things of value received," the plea documents state.

Spokesman Walsh said the Lake George trip was merely a trip with personal friends "for which everyone paid their shares, and he [Ney] has eyewitnesses to prove that claim." Ney has previously stated that he believed the Scotland trip was properly paid for by a nonprofit, not Abramoff's clients.

Volz conveyed Abramoff's requests for official action directly to Ney on numerous occasions including Aug. 14, 2002, when prosecutors say Volz told Ney "what Abramoff wanted him to say" in a coming meeting with representatives of an Indian tribe client.

And on Oct. 8., 2002, Volz told Ney "what Abramoff wanted him [Ney] to say in a telephone conversation" with tribal representatives who were seeking approval of a gaming amendment that Ney had agreed to insert in a pending bill.

Ney, prosecutors charged, performed a number of previously undisclosed acts at his former aide's urging, including signing a letter opposing a commission on Indian gambling, assisting Abramoff in getting federal property for a private school and assisting the Agua Caliente, a California tribe that was a client of Abramoff's.

Walter F. Roche Jr. writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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