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Former Ney Aide Details How Abramoff Treated 'Champions'

Neil Volz, left, poses with Ralph Reed, Paul Vinovich, Robert Ney, William Heaton, David Safavian, Michael Williams, Alex Abramoff and Jack Abramoff in front of the chartered plane that took them to Scotland in August 2002.
Neil Volz, left, poses with Ralph Reed, Paul Vinovich, Robert Ney, William Heaton, David Safavian, Michael Williams, Alex Abramoff and Jack Abramoff in front of the chartered plane that took them to Scotland in August 2002. (U.s. District Court Via Associated Press)

Volz painted a picture for jurors of the way Team Abramoff did business. "When I was on Capitol Hill, I was given tickets to sporting events, concerts, free food, free meals," he testified. "In return, I gave preferential treatment to my lobbying buddies." After he left the Hill to join Abramoff, Volz said, he took on the role of doling out the favors and seeking special treatment.

Abramoff set up the Scotland trip in summer 2002. Besides Ney and Safavian, guests included Ney's chief of staff, William Heaton; Paul D. Vinovich, a lawyer on the House Administration Committee, which Ney then chaired; lobbyist Michael Williams; and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, an Abramoff business partner. They took a chartered Gulfstream II jet, golfed the Old Course at fabled St. Andrews in Scotland, then flew to London for two nights at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Prosecutors have provided evidence showing that the per-person cost was far beyond the $3,100 Safavian paid out of his pocket.

A dinner with Scottish parliamentarians that would have provided some official purpose for the U.S. group was canceled, Volz testified. When the group arrived in London, he said, members tried to set up some sort of government meeting. Ney, Volz said, "told me he went over and met with someone in the British Parliament building."

Safavian, who formerly worked with Abramoff, arrived at GSA as chief of staff in May 2002. He and Abramoff began e-mailing each other about two properties controlled by the GSA. One was land in White Oak, in Montgomery County, where Abramoff hoped to relocate a Jewish academy he founded.

On advice from Safavian, Volz said, the lobbyists first tried to insert language in an election reform bill. "We had a champion in the Congress who had already agreed to attach another provision," Volz testified, identifying the lawmaker as "Congressman Ney." Ney had agreed to try to add language to the same bill that would have aided a Texas Indian tribe represented by Abramoff.

When that did not work, Volz said, Ney told him of another "potential vehicle" on the legislative agenda, a line of questioning U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman cut off as "hearsay" evidence. Volz sought help in receiving information on the land from GSA through an inquiry by the chief of staff to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), but backed off when the GSA asked Capito's office why she wanted the information.

The second property Abramoff sought was the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Abramoff, with a tribal client, wanted to convert it into a luxury hotel and sought to have GSA tailor the bid specifications to the advantage of the tribe. "We were trying to rig the rule so our client could get the best chance," Volz said.

He and Williams solicited letters to GSA from Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), though in the end their efforts were not "the golden plan we were hoping for," Volz said. Nonetheless, he said, Safavian "concurred with my advice that it was better to have the letter from the Hill before the bid was set."

Van Gelder is seeking to prove that Safavian was a friend of Abramoff's, not a business associate, that Safavian was open and honest with federal investigators, and that Abramoff was not engaged in any formal business dealings with the GSA.


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