Rep. Ney Admits Selling Influence
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) agreed yesterday to plead guilty to corruption charges after admitting to performing a variety of official acts for lobbyists in exchange for campaign contributions, expensive meals, luxury travel, sports tickets and thousands of dollars in gambling chips. He is the first elected official to face prison time in the ongoing influence-peddling investigation of former GOP lobbying powerhouse Jack Abramoff.
After fiercely proclaiming his innocence for more than a year, Ney signed a two-count plea agreement Wednesday that the Justice Department filed in federal court yesterday. The charges of conspiracy and making a false statement could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years, but prosecutors plan to seek a term of 27 months. He faces up to $500,000 in fines.
The six-term Republican said in a statement yesterday that he was seeking treatment for alcoholism and was sorry for "serious mistakes" that have brought pain to his family and constituents. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Washington on Oct. 13 to formally enter his plea.
Coming just seven weeks before the midterm congressional elections, Ney's admission of guilt was cited yesterday by Democrats as evidence that Congress is beset by a "ring of corruption." But Republicans were quick to note that a Democrat, Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, is the focus of a separate federal bribery investigation.
At a news conference announcing the acceptance of the plea agreement and the filing of the charging document in court, the chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, Alice S. Fisher, said Ney had breached the public trust. "Congressman Ney and his co-conspirators engaged in a long-term pattern to deprive the public of his honest, unbiased services as an elected official," Fisher said.
Court papers made no mention of any agreement on Ney's part to provide evidence against anyone else in the ongoing probe, unlike in other plea agreements that prosecutors have reached with Abramoff and his former associates. Ney is the eighth person to be indicted or to admit wrongdoing in connection with the Abramoff investigation, under which lobbyists, government officials and other lawmakers continue to be scrutinized.
Ney, once one of the most powerful members of the House, admitted to offering legislation at the behest of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists, which included former Ney chief of staff Neil G. Volz. In exchange, Ney accepted a stream of things of value, such as luxury vacations to Scotland, Lake George, N.Y, and New Orleans; tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions; restaurant meals; and tickets to sporting events, including the use of exclusive stadium suites. Prosecutors valued the trips alone at more than $170,000.
In 2002, Ney sought to insert four amendments into an election-reform bill to benefit Abramoff's clients. He further admitted to helping another Abramoff client win a multimillion-dollar contract to provide wireless communication service to the U.S. Capitol, and to inserting comments into the Congressional Record to help Abramoff purchase a casino cruise line in Florida.
Ney, 52, under legal and political pressure for months because of his connections to Abramoff, announced this summer that he would not seek reelection. Ney has not been seen publicly in the House since he cast a vote Tuesday night, and he missed more than a dozen votes on Wednesday and Thursday. His phones went unanswered in his Washington office. His Chillicothe, Ohio, office released the congressman's statement.
"I have made serious mistakes and am sorry for them," Ney said in the statement. "I am very sorry for the pain I have caused to my family, my constituents in Ohio and my colleagues." He said he recently recognized that "a dependence on alcohol has been a problem for me."
"I am not making any excuses, and I take full responsibility for my actions. Over the years, I have worked to help others, but now I am the one that needs help," Ney's statement said.
As chairman of the House Administration Committee, Ney was known as the mayor of Capitol Hill. The committee oversees the Capitol Police and the administrative functions of Congress.