Aide sentenced in Abramoff scandal

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By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A former aide to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was sentenced Monday to 12 weekends in prison and four years of probation for passing tips and potential clients to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for gifts, cash and the promise of a job.

Mark D. Zachares, 52, who worked for Young when he chaired the House transportation committee, also must perform 200 hours of community service and pay a $4,000 fine for his April 2007 guilty plea to conspiracy to deprive the public of honest services, ordered U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the District.

Prosecutors sought prison for Zachares but acknowledged that the father of two teenage daughters provided "complete" and "substantial" cooperation in an investigation of two members of Congress, believed to be Young and then-Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.).

Zachares's lawyer, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., argued that other aides received probation for comparable crimes after their cooperation led to charges against lawmakers. Zachares admitted receiving $10,000 in cash, $30,000 in tickets and a spot in a $160,000 golf trip to Scotland from Abramoff.

In a Nov. 15 court filing, prosecutors did not name Young and Feeney, but made public for the first time that Zachares "provided extensive, detailed and valuable eyewitness information" about one congressman's travel and payments for expenses by Abramoff, and about another lawmaker's receipt of travel and entertainment. In the former, the FBI secretly recorded a telephone call that Zachares made to another witness.

The government said that, through no fault of Zachares's, it halted both investigations because an appeals court decided in one case that a lawmaker's statements to the House ethics committee are off-limits to prosecutors under the Constitution's separation-of-powers requirement, and because of "legal and evidentiary issues" in the other.

A federal appeals court ruled in 2009 that criminal prosecutors could not use testimony from Feeney's lawyer's to House ethics investigators because of the Constitution's "speech or debate clause."

Feeney, who was defeated in his reelection bid in 2008, was required by the House ethics panel in 2007 to repay the U.S. Treasury $5,643 for the Scotland trip he took with Zachares at Abramoff's expense.

Young was under FBI investigation for several years for accepting payments from business people. Prosecutors handling his case were part of a Justice Department corruption-fighting unit implicated in mishandling evidence in the botched prosecution of former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).


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