Sunday, March 18, 2007

Former Bush education official admits ethics breach

Former Bush education official admits ethics breach

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The former No. 2 official at the U.S. Education Department has agreed to pay $50,000 for violating conflict-of-interest rules by not selling bank stock while in office, the Justice Department said on Friday.

Eugene Hickok, who resigned as deputy education secretary in January 2005, also admitted liability in the case, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor and Education Department Inspector General John Higgins said in a statement.

Hickok became deputy education secretary in a recess appointment by President George W. Bush in April 2004 after having been under secretary since July 2001.

During that time, he and his wife owned stock in several banks, including Bank of America Corp., according to settlement documents.

Because the banks participate in a program in which they receive government guarantees for lending money to students, Education Department and White House ethics officials told Hickok in January 2004 that he and his family would have to divest their bank holdings, the documents said.

Although Hickok said he and his wife divested their bank holdings and did actually sell most of them in June 2004, he held on to more than 800 Bank of America shares, even though "several issues" came before him "that may have had a direct and predictable effect on the company," the documents said.

Before joining the Bush administration, Hickok served for six years as Pennsylvania's education secretary.