Former GOP Staff Member Pleads Guilty to Fraud Charge

By Del Quentin Wilber and Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The chief of staff to a former senior member of the House Appropriations Committee pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to commit fraud, becoming the latest casualty of the scandal centered on disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

John C. Albaugh admitted to accepting gifts -- including tickets to sporting events, concerts by groups such as the Wiggles and a Disney on Ice show -- in exchange for helping lobbyists and their clients, according to prosecutors.

Albaugh is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He faces as much as two years in prison and has agreed to become a cooperating witness under an agreement with the Justice Department.

He is the latest former official caught in the investigation of Abramoff and his illicit dealings with some members of Congress and Bush administration officials. Fourteen lobbyists and public officials have either pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, charges as a result of the investigation into Abramoff's activities, the Justice Department said yesterday.

Albaugh, who lives in South Carolina and works in real estate development, declined to comment after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to a count of conspiring to defraud the House of Representatives. His lawyer, Jeffrey S. Jacobovitz, said Albaugh "deeply regrets and accepts full responsibility for his involvement in these matters."

Albaugh was chief of staff for then-Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), who was once chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee and, according to sources, is the person identified as "Representative 4" in court documents related to Albaugh's case. In a statement, Istook said he was "as surprised and as shocked as anyone."

"I have not seen the charges and I have no information about them," said Istook, who left the House to launch an unsuccessful bid for governor of Oklahoma in 2006. He is now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "I have met with the FBI. They did not share any details about the case, but they told me I am not a target of their investigation. I will continue to cooperate with them fully."

The court documents show that in March 2003, Istook, who accepted $29,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients, called Abramoff to thank him in advance for use of one of his luxury boxes at FedEx Field for a fundraiser. He asked the lobbyist which projects his clients were seeking in a transportation bill.

Istook "basically asked what we want in the Transportation Bill," Abramoff wrote to lobbyists on his team after the phone call, according to the charging papers. He then told them to "make sure we load up on our entire Christmas list," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors wrote in charging documents that Albaugh used his official position to "perform official acts in return for a stream of things of value benefiting himself and/or Representative 4."

The fraud conspiracy allegedly began in March 2002 when a lobbyist -- identified only as "Lobbyist C" -- e-mailed Albaugh that his clients needed federal funding and that Albaugh could "eat free off of" them, prosecutors wrote in the court papers.

Lobbyist C was identified by the sources as Kevin C. Ring, who worked with Abramoff. Ring once was an aide to Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) before going to work for Abramoff.

Doolittle and Ring remain under investigation, sources said. Their attorneys did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Ring and Abramoff or Abramoff's lobbying firm gave Albaugh tickets to concerts by musicians George Strait and Tim McGraw, and to Washington Redskins football games, according to the filings. They also say that the lobbyists wined and dined Albaugh at restaurants and delivered dinner to him and other aides when they were working late one night on a transportation bill.

Ring and his firm also hosted a fundraiser for Istook in July 2003 at an MCI Center luxury box during an American Idol concert. Neither Albaugh nor Istook's campaign committee sought to reimburse the firm for the suite until news of the Abramoff scandal broke.

The day after the concert, Albaugh agreed to help Ring obtain $4.2 million in funding for one of his clients, according to the documents.

In an e-mail sent to Ring in November 2003, Albaugh bragged about getting at least $1 million each for four of the lobbyist's clients in a transportation bill.

"Whos [sic] the man!" Albaugh wrote.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company