By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Federal prosecutors yesterday recommended a jail sentence of 18 to 24 months for a former senior staffer on the House Transportation Committee who admitted to providing inside information and steering potential clients to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Lawyer Mark D. Zachares pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deprive the public of honest services, admitting before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle that Abramoff helped place him in his job and showered him with cash, $30,000 in tickets to sporting events and the promise of a high-paying lobbying job.
Under the plea arrangement, Zachares agreed to cooperate in the investigation of Abramoff's lobbying activities. The probe has so far resulted in 11 convictions and guilty pleas. Prosecutors could recommend a reduction in Zachares's jail time if they think his cooperation is significant. As part of the plea deal, the government has agreed not to prosecute Zachares's wife, prosecutors told the judge.
Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a lawyer for Zachares, declined to comment on what information his client would provide the government. "He's a good man, and he's taken responsibility for the things he did," he told reporters after the hearing.
Zachares, 49, admitted that between 2002 and 2004, as a lawyer on the committee staff, he provided Abramoff and his team of lobbyists information and potential clients concerning the reorganization of the Homeland Security Department, federal disaster and highway aid, and maritime issues.
One of the gifts Zachares admitted receiving from Abramoff was a luxury trip in 2003 to St. Andrews golf course in Scotland. Court papers filed by the government made conspicuous reference to "Representative #3" who also made the trip. That person has previously been identified as Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.). Zachares "falsely reported" in travel disclosure forms that it was a fact-finding trip and he low-balled the cost at $5,643, "a figure coordinated with Abramoff to be substantially identical as the figures other attendees, including Representative #3, would report."
Feeney's office said this week that the Justice Department has asked him for more information about the Scotland trip and that he is providing it voluntarily. In January, the House ethics committee said that Feeney broke House rules and ordered him to reimburse the U.S. Treasury $5,643. The St. Petersburg Times in Florida reported that federal investigators requested an e-mail last week that Feeney's spokesman sent the newspaper last year denying that the congressman knew the true source of funding for the Scotland trip.