Former Aide to Rep. Ney Pleads Guilty
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
A former senior aide to Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) who left Congress to join Jack Abramoff's lobbying team pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to corruptly influence Ney's official actions by showering him with gifts and trips.
Neil G. Volz, 35, a Ney confidant who spent seven years on the congressman's staff, joins Abramoff and three of his other former associates in agreeing to cooperate with the government and testify against Ney in the unfolding public corruption scandal on Capitol Hill.
Ney, one of half a dozen lawmakers under scrutiny because of ties to Abramoff, has been forced to give up his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee. He handily won the GOP primary in Ohio last week, and Democrats are targeting him for defeat in November.
Ney's attorneys acknowledged yesterday that he is under mounting pressure from the Justice Department, but they insisted that he has no intention of pleading guilty to crimes they said he did not commit.
Volz, who served as press secretary and later chief of staff to Ney, is a pivotal figure in the investigation because he has agreed to testify about actions that Ney performed while Volz was working in Ney's office and while Volz was on Abramoff's lobbying team.
In an interview on Fox News Channel yesterday, Ney was asked whether he would resign if indicted. "I'm not going to comment on hypotheticals," he replied. "I don't believe I'm going to be indicted."
Regarding previous plea bargains for Abramoff and two former aides to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), Ney said that the three are attempting to stay out of prison and that "they've said a lot of things, as I understand, about a lot of people." He continued: "I think fact will be separated from fiction. We haven't done anything wrong. I haven't done anything wrong."
Volz appeared before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle to enter a guilty plea to a single count of conspiracy, admitting that he helped deprive the public of honest services and violated a federal ban on lobbying within one year of his congressional employment. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine but could receive a substantially lower penalty depending on his cooperation in the continuing corruption investigation, attorneys in the case said.
Volz, who has been talking to prosecutors for three months, is providing information on other lawmakers and staff, according to a source close to the ongoing investigation.
The object of the conspiracy was for Volz and his other Abramoff associates "to unjustly enrich themselves by corruptly receiving, while public officials, and providing, while lobbyists, a stream of things of value with the intent to influence and reward official acts and attempting to influence members of Congress in violation of the law," according to an eight-page document filed by prosecutors.
Volz admitted in court papers that when he worked for Ney, Abramoff's lobbying team provided him with travel, golf fees, restaurant meals and entertainment, including tickets to a U2 concert. Volz did not make required disclosures of the gifts, which exceeded House limits. In exchange, Volz admitted, he induced Ney to act in ways that benefited Abramoff's clients, including sponsoring legislation, placing statements in the Congressional Record and contacting agency officials.
After joining Abramoff's lobbying team in early 2002, Volz admitted, he and the group provided Ney and members of the congressman's staff with all-expense-paid and reduced-price trips to Scotland and London in August of that year; to the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., in January 2003; to New Orleans in May 2003; and to the posh Sagamore resort at Lake George, N.Y., in August 2003. The court papers refer to Ney not by name but as "Representative #1."