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Abramoff Pleads Guilty to 3 Counts

Abramoff Leaves Federal Court
Jack Abramoff, center, leaves Federal Court in Washington Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006. The once-powerful lobbyist pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors investigating influence peddling that has threatened powerful members of the U.S. Congress. At right is his attorney Abbe Lowell. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert -- AP)

The court papers said Ney advanced the prospects of an Abramoff client, a telecommunications company that won a contract to wire the House.

Two of Abramoff's former partners have already pleaded guilty and have promised to cooperate in the ongoing investigation of congressional corruption and are prepared to testify against Ney in connection with his aid in the SunCruz purchase. Prosecutors in Florida and Washington are in discussions about where a case against Ney should be brought, officials said.

Ney reiterated yesterday that he had done nothing wrong and said he was misled by Abramoff.

One of Abramoff's former associates, Michael Scanlon, a onetime press aide to DeLay, was a secret partner in Abramoff's Indian tribal scheme. Abramoff not only charged the tribes lobbying fees but also urged them to hire Scanlon's public relations firm at hugely inflated prices. Scanlon, in turn, kicked back half of the money to Abramoff, who was thus able to conceal the funds from public disclosure and even from the lobbyist's law firm.

They spread tribal money around and sought legislative favors in return. Abramoff and Scanlon "offered and provided a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for official acts and influence and agreements to provide official action and influence," a statement of facts attached to the plea agreement said. "These things of value included, but are not limited to, foreign and domestic travel, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment, election support for candidates for government office, employment for relatives of officials and campaign contributions."

Among the things of interest to investigators are payments made by Abramoff and his colleagues to the wives of some lawmakers and actions taken by Rudy and other senior Capitol Hill aides, some of whom went to work for Abramoff at the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, lawyers and others familiar with the probe said.

Another person under scrutiny, sources said, is DeLay, who is facing separate campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas.

"Tom DeLay is not concerned that Mr. Abramoff is cooperating," said Richard Cullen, his attorney. "He urges everyone involved to cooperate in the investigation and to tell the truth." Cullen had no comment on allegations involving former DeLay aides Rudy and Scanlon.

Among the trips under scrutiny is a golf excursion to Scotland that DeLay and aides took with Abramoff in 2000 and a similar trip Ney took two years later.

DeLay has taken three overseas trips with Abramoff since 1997 -- to the Mariana Islands, Russia and Scotland -- and received more than $70,000 from Abramoff, his associates and tribal clients for his campaign committees.

Investigating DeLay, who is facing campaign finance charges in Texas, could take up to a year and require the cooperation of other witnesses before issues surrounding the Texas Republican are resolved, according to people familiar with the case.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) and other legislators involved with Indian issues are among those being investigated, sources said.

A spokesman for Doolittle, whose wife received payments from Abramoff's lobbying firm, has previously said there was no connection with her husband's work. Burns's office has said his actions on behalf of Abramoff's tribal clients were in sync with his support for improving the lot of Indian tribes.

Also of interest to prosecutors is former deputy interior secretary J. Steven Griles, who held the job from 2001 to 2004. He has said he never tried to intercede on behalf of Abramoff's clients, but e-mails released by a Senate committee show more than half a dozen contacts Griles had with Abramoff or with a woman working as the lobbyist's go-between.

Prosecutors are continuing to investigate two of DeLay's top former deputies, Rudy and Edwin A. Buckham. Rudy is under investigation for assistance he allegedly provided Abramoff's lobbying clients while he was working for DeLay. Payments from Abramoff clients and associates to Liberty Consulting -- a political firm founded by Rudy's wife, Lisa -- are also under review by the Justice Department. Rudy did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Abramoff maintained a business relationship with Buckham, who runs the Alexander Strategy Group with Rudy. Among the areas of interest to prosecutors is client business directed to the Alexander Strategy Group when the firm was hiring the spouses of members of Congress, including DeLay's wife, Christine.

Christine DeLay was paid about $115,000 over three years while performing a special project -- contacting members of Congress to find out their favorite charity, according to her attorney.

Fisher, offering the Justice Department's first public comments on an inquiry that began in spring 2004, said that the Abramoff case is "very active and ongoing." She said the department is committed to making sure that people know "government is not for sale."

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