Friday, September 15, 2006

Ohio congressman agrees to plead guilty in graft case

Ohio congressman agrees to plead guilty in graft case
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges in the political corruption investigation involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

Ney, who has previously denied any wrongdoing, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 and dropped out of the re-election race last month after questions about his links to Abramoff.

He would be the first member of Congress to plead guilty in the Justice Department's investigation of Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty and admitted he gave lawmakers Super Bowl tickets, travel junkets and other gifts to win legislative favors for his lobbying clients.

As news of Ney's intended guilty plea broke late Thursday, Ohio Republicans picked state Sen. Joy Padgett in a special primary to replace Ney on the ballot -- a move the party said boosts their chance of holding the seat in November elections.

Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, pleaded guilty in May and agreed to cooperate in the investigation. Volz left Ney's office in 2002 to join Abramoff's lobbying firm.

The source said Ney has agreed to plead guilty to charges that include conspiracy and making false statements. Ney has signed the plea agreement, but it has yet to be filed in federal court, the source said.

The plea agreement was expected to be filed and made public on Friday, the source said. It was unclear when Ney would appear in court to enter the guilty plea. The source said Ney was likely to have to serve some time in prison.

Former Republican House leader Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, resigned after becoming embroiled in the Abramoff scandal. Two of his former aides have pleaded guilty. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing.

The Abramoff scandal and other corruption cases have hurt Republicans as they seek to keep control of Congress in the November elections. Abramoff, a former top Washington lobbyist, had close ties to congressional leaders, especially Republicans.

The Abramoff investigation also resulted in the conviction in June of former Bush administration official David Safavian, who was found guilty of lying and obstructing justice.

The New York Times, quoting people with detailed knowledge of the investigation, said Ney had entered an in-patient rehabilitation facility recently for treatment of alcoholism.

Volz admitted that while working for Ney he accepted trips, frequent restaurant meals, drinks and entertainment. Volz, Ney and others performed official acts motivated in part by the gifts, prosecutors said.

As a lobbyist working in Abramoff's firm, Volz admitted that he took part in a conspiracy to give various items to Ney.

Among them were an all-expenses-paid golf trip to Scotland in 2002, a trip to Lake George in New York in 2003, regular food and drinks at Abramoff's restaurants and tickets to sporting events and concerts.

In exchange, Ney agreed to support and pass legislation, to support or oppose actions taken by government agencies and departments and to assist Abramoff in getting additional clients, prosecutors said.