By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Neil G. Volz, a congressional aide-turned-lobbyist, was sentenced yesterday to two years' probation in the Jack Abramoff corruption investigation, avoiding jail because of his critical role in helping prosecutors bring a case against former congressman Robert W. Ney.
Appearing before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, Volz said he was ashamed and sorry for his actions. He admitted that he had accepted things of value from Abramoff, the convicted lobbyist, in exchange for official acts, then joined Abramoff's lobbying team where he plied Ney with luxury trips, meals and sports tickets for official favors.
Volz, 37, pleaded guilty in May 2006 to conspiracy to deprive the public of honest services, in part by violating the one-year ban on lobbying Ney after leaving Capitol Hill in 2002. In addition to probation, Volz was fined $2,000.
Prosecutors told Huvelle that Volz's cooperation was critical to their prosecution of Ney, an Ohio Republican who was chairman of the House Administration Committee. Volz served as Ney's chief of staff, then as staff director of the committee. Ney pleaded guilty last year and is serving a 30-month sentence for honest services fraud.
In recommending a reduced sentence for Volz, prosecutors filed papers with the court disclosing that Volz was one of the first people in the Abramoff scandal to discuss cooperating with the government, and began debriefings in spring 2005. His cooperation aided in the prosecution not only of Ney but also of former General Services Administration chief of staff David H. Safavian and of William Heaton, another former Ney staffer who ended up cooperating with the government by secretly recording conversations with Ney. Heaton was sentenced last month to two years' probation.
Prosecutors told the court that Volz received abusive phone calls from Ney when the congressman suspected he was cooperating with the government. Volz "retained some of the recorded messages and provided them to the government," prosecutors wrote in papers filed with the court. Those recordings, they said, "would have been powerful evidence of Ney's consciousness of guilt had Ney elected to fight the charges against him and proceed to trial."