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Rep. Ney...s Former Aide Admits To Cooperation With Abramoff

By Philip Shenon
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

A former top aide to Rep. Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring with the lobbyist Jack Abramoff to corrupt public officials.

In court papers, the former aide, Neil G. Volz, said that gifts were “corruptly offered to and accepted by” Ney, including a 2002 trip to Scotland by private jet that included rounds of golf at the fabled course at St. Andrews.

The plea agreement made clear that Ney, a six-term House member who is facing a re-election fight this year because of his ties to Abramoff, remains a central focus of the Justice Department’s influence-peddling investigation.

Volz, 35, who was Ney’s chief of staff from 1998 to 2002, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine as a result of his guilty plea to one count of criminal conspiracy. Abramoff, who was once among the most powerful Republican lobbyists in Washington and who recruited Volz to join his lobbying firm in 2002, pleaded guilty to broader corruption charges in January.

Ney was not identified by name in Volz’s plea agreement, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

But lawyers for Ney acknowledged that he was the House member identified in the plea agreement as “Representative #1.” He is accused with other members of his staff of accepting gifts from Abramoff’s lobbying firm, including the trip to Scotland and trips to New Orleans and the 2003 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., as well as free meals and drinks at Washington restaurants and use of Abramoff’s box suites at the MCI Center sports arena in Washington and Camden Yards stadium, home to the Baltimore Orioles.

The plea agreement charged that “Representative #1 and others performed official acts at the behest of Abramoff and others, which were motivated in part by the things of value received,” suggesting bribery.

The court papers offered a long list of actions taken by Ney to help Abramoff, including meeting with his Indian tribe clients and promising to introduce legislation to benefit their gambling operations.

Volz acknowledged in the plea agreement that he began accepting illegal gifts from Abramoff while he was working in the House, and that as a result he did several official favors for the lobbyist, including having Ney place statements into the Congressional Record that were helpful to Abramoff in pursuing his purchase of a fleet of casino boats in Florida.

In a statement released by his House office, Ney said, “I have always considered Neil Volz my friend” and “I am very saddened to see what happened today.”

Ney’s spokesman, Brian Walsh, said in a separate statement that the plea deal with Volz was “thin at best” and that “the congressman is more confident than ever that he will be vindicated in this matter.” Walsh said that “if Neil crossed an ethical line, he did so without congressman Ney’s knowledge.”

Ohio Democrats have seized on Ney’s relationship with Abramoff in seeking the lawmaker’s defeat, and he is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in congressional elections this year.