Former Lobbyist Testifies Against Official
Tuesday, May 30, 2006; 7:44 PM
WASHINGTON -- A convicted lobbyist described Tuesday how he obtained insider information and advice from Bush administration procurement chief David Safavian to advance two projects for Republican influence-peddlar Jack Abramoff, who then took the official on a lavish golf trip to Scotland.
A partner of Abramoff's at the time, Neil Volz also outlined in U.S. District Court how the Abramoff team received assistance from several Republican congressmen or their aides including, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio.
The government's star witness against Safavian, Volz was a former chief of staff to Ney. Volz has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for some of the behavior he testified about. Facing an 18- to 24-month prison sentence, he hopes cooperation with prosecutors will win him probation only.
Just weeks after the assistance, Safavian, Ney and two members of Ney's staff accompanied Abramoff, Volz and other Abramoff associates on an August 2002 golf trip to the famed St. Andrews course in Scotland and then to London. Volz said the bills for $500-a-night hotel rooms in London, $100 rounds of drinks, $400 rounds of golf, dinners and travel on a private Gulfstream jet were paid by Abramoff and his staff, and he never saw Safavian pay any expenses.
On cross examination, Safavian's lawyer Barbara Van Gelder got Volz to admit that Safavian told him in Scotland he was paying Abramoff $3,100 for his expenses.
She also got Volz to acknowledge he once said that figure was "low but reasonable." But Volz quickly explained that by "reasonable" he only meant that reporters wouldn't question it. "I was more concerned about spin than potential legal consequences," Volz added.
Prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds used Volz' descriptions of the costs to suggest the trip was far more expensive. Edmonds showed that Ney reported $1,200 in hotel expenses although Volz said Ney spent two nights in London in the Mandarin Hotel, which charged $500 a night for the congressional staff rooms, leaving only $200 to cover the cost of four nights at St. Andrews.
The Abramoff team sent Ney partially filled out draft financial disclosure forms for him to use in filing disclosures with Congress that falsely understated the total cost of the trip at $3,200, Volz testified.
"I thought that number passed the smell test," Volz said, explaining that he hoped that reporters searching public records for travel abuses would pass right over it without asking questions.
In a statement, Ney's spokesman, Brian J. Walsh, said, "Congressman Ney filed exactly what his office was told to be the cost of the trip ... what every other member who has taken a privately funded trip has done for years."
In court, however, Prosecutor Edmonds pointed out to the jury that the official date stamp on Ney's disclosure form, due within 30 days of the trip, showed it was not filed until September 2004, the same month news stories appeared about the trip.
The prosecution turned Volz' testimony into a tutorial on how a corrupt lobbyist like Volz gathers information, rewards officials who help influence government decisions and tries to operate in secrecy.