By Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 14, 2006 2:18 PM
Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) pleaded guilty yesterday to corruption charges arising from the influence-peddling investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, becoming the first elected official to fall in a scandal that may damage his party's chances in next month's elections.
Ney, 52, emerged from a month of alcoholism treatment to appear in federal court in Washington, where he admitted performing official acts for lobbyists in exchange for campaign contributions, expensive meals, luxury travel and skybox sports tickets. Ney also admitted taking thousands of dollars in gambling chips from an international businessman who sought his help with the State Department.
House Republican leaders, still struggling to blunt the impact of a scandal involving House pages, immediately vowed to expel Ney in a post-election session if he has not resigned by then. Ney's attorney said in court that the congressman will resign his seat in the coming weeks but wants to first take care of pending constituent matters and see that his staff is settled.
Ney, a six-term House member from a conservative district in eastern Ohio, appeared before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle and calmly acknowledged his guilt as Huvelle read a long list of favors Ney and Abramoff had done for each other. "That's accurate, Your Honor," Ney repeated again and again.
Ney made no statement to the court, but afterward he issued a written statement saying he was "ashamed" that his long career in public service has ended this way.
"I never acted to enrich myself or get things I shouldn't, but over time, I allowed myself to get too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington D.C. for too long," Ney said. "I accepted things I shouldn't have with the result that Jack Abramoff used my name to advance his own secret schemes of fraud and theft in way I could never have imagined."
Ney is the eighth person convicted in the continuing federal investigation into Abramoff's activities. A federal task force that includes a dozen Justice Department prosecutors is investigating Abramoff's dealings with other congressional offices, including those of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), according to lawyers and witnesses involved in the probe.
Last month, Ney agreed to plead guilty to one count each of conspiracy and making false statements. His formal plea was delayed while he was in rehab. Yesterday, Ney was accompanied by a young staffer and a friend, Ellen Ratner, who told reporters that he did not want to drag his wife and children into court. "He's very happy he is sober," added Ratner.
Huvelle set sentencing for Jan. 19. The government has recommended that Ney be given 27 months in prison.
But Republican and Democratic leaders said they are prepared to move against him in November when the House returns from its recess. "Bob Ney must be punished for the criminal actions he has acknowledged," said a joint statement by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). "He betrayed his oath of office and violated the trust of those he represented in the House. There is no place for him in this Congress. If he chooses not to resign his office, we will move to expel him immediately as our first order of business when Congress resumes its legislative work in November."
Ney announced in August that he would not seek reelection and resigned as chairman of the House Administration Committee; the head of that panel is known as the mayor of Capitol Hill.
The Ohio Republican had been a target of the investigation for a year and came under increasing pressure -- first in January with Abramoff's guilty plea and agreement to cooperate in the investigation, then with the guilty plea in May of his former aide Neil G. Volz, who admitted conspiring to corruptly influence the congressman and others. Ney admitted encouraging Volz to violate the one-year ban on lobbying by former staffers.
Ney accepted a stream of valuable things from Abramoff and the lobbyists he hired from Capitol Hill, among them Volz. The gifts included luxury vacations that prosecutors valued at more than $170,000. Ney, for his part, sought to insert four amendments into a 2002 election overhaul bill to benefit Abramoff's clients. He also admitted helping another client win a multimillion-dollar contract to provide wireless communication services to the U.S. Capitol.
The congressman admitted that he twice inserted comments in the Congressional Record aimed at bolstering a bid by Abramoff to buy a casino cruise line in Florida in 2000.
Abramoff is scheduled to report to prison next month for his conviction on bank-fraud charges in the Florida case. His partner in that deal, Adam Kidan, is slated to report soon to a minimum-security prison camp at Fort Dix, N.J.
As of August, Ney had spent $296,000 in campaign funds to pay for legal expenses this year, according to newly filed campaign reports.
By age 62, Ney could be eligible for a pension worth about 20 percent of the $165,100 congressional salary, or about $33,000 a year.
Earlier this year, Ney's committee passed ethics legislation to strip convicted lawmakers of their pensions, but the bill died in the House. Ney championed the provision, saying it was designed to hold "members of Congress and those they work with to the highest standards in order to ensure that those who abuse the public trust will be dealt with accordingly."
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.