Former Gregg Staffer Under Investigation
Thursday, February 5, 2009
President Obama's nominee for secretary of commerce, Sen. Judd Gregg, said yesterday that one of his former top staff members in his U.S. Senate office is under investigation in the Jack Abramoff gifts-for-favors scandal, but a White House spokesman said the New Hampshire Republican is not a target of the probe.
An unnamed reference to Kevin H. Koonce, 37, who served as Gregg's legislative director and counsel for two years until 2004, appears in a plea deal filed in court last week, according to people familiar with the circumstances of the events described in the documents.
Koonce is "Staffer F" in the filing, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is still under investigation. He is described as allegedly accepting more than $10,000 in sports tickets, meals and drinks in exchange for official actions by Gregg's office favorable to Abramoff's clients. The former Republican lobbyist is serving time in federal prison.
Koonce, who now works for the Washington lobbying firm of Sorini, Samet & Associates, did not return messages yesterday. His lawyer declined to comment. A firm spokeswoman said, "He's been put on temporary administrative leave to focus on personal issues."
After Obama introduced Gregg at the White House on Monday, the Department of Justice contacted Gregg's Senate office to inform him of the investigation. He immediately informed the White House.
The Justice Department has informed Gregg that he is not the target of an investigation, he said. "My office is fully committed to doing everything possible to aid investigators and will continue to be thoroughly transparent in providing them with any and all information necessary to see this issue through."
The alleged activities involving Koonce occurred between 2002 and 2004, according to a document accompanying the plea agreement of Todd A. Boulanger, 37. Boulanger, who worked with Abramoff as a lobbyist at two Washington firms, pleaded guilty to honest-services violations last week and faces 18 to 24 months in prison.
Gregg said in a statement that he "was not aware of any improper acts by the former staffer in question. He left my office more than four years ago due to issues completely unrelated to those brought to light by this investigation."
Court records say that Boulanger met Staffer F on July 16, 2002, at a party thrown at Abramoff's former restaurant, Signatures.
Boulanger said he turned to Staffer F to tap into Gregg's position on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Koonce's current lobbying firm said on its Web site that Koonce "developed legislative strategies and coordinated legislative staff and managed banking, tax, and trade issues for Senator Gregg."
Boulanger asked Staffer F in September 2002 for help preserving a $3.5 million earmark for a client.
In January 2003, Boulanger turned to Staffer F to fight a threat to Abramoff's tribal clients, who would donate $12,000 to Gregg's campaigns; then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was pushing to allow Alaska Native firms to open gambling casinos anywhere in the United States. Staffer F said that his office had "flagged" the proposal.