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  •   Ex-Aide to Rep. Shuster Indicted

    Ann Eppard (J.D. Cavrich/Altoona Mirror)
    By Charles R. Babcock and Eric Pianin
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, April 10, 1998; Page A01

    Ann Eppard, who became an influential transportation lobbyist through her close alliance with House Transportation Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday for allegedly taking $230,000 in illegal payments to influence a massive Boston highway project while serving as Shuster's top aide.

    Eppard, 55, was also charged with embezzling $27,500 from Shuster's campaign committee -- she served as its assistant treasurer -- by allegedly arranging phony payments for a consultant who then returned the money to her through a relative.

    Eppard and Shuster/Roll Call
    Ann Eppard and Rep. Bud Shuster (center) during the January 1996 unveiling of Shuster's portrait. (Roll Call Photo)
    Since the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, Shuster has become one of the most powerful House committee chairmen, overseeing the $217 billion highway bill. But at the same time, Shuster has been under investigation by the grand jury that indicted Eppard yesterday. He has also been the subject of a separate House Ethics Committee investigation of his dealings with Eppard after she became a lobbyist.

    U.S. Attorney Donald A. Stern in Boston said in a statement that no one else in Shuster's office participated in the crimes charged in the seven-count indictment, which occurred before Eppard left Shuster's staff after the 1994 election, but he added that the investigation is continuing.

    In a statement yesterday, Shuster called Eppard "one of the finest, most decent and dedicated persons I have ever known," predicted she will be "totally vindicated" and termed the accusations "a political indictment, pure and simple."

    Eppard's lawyer, Richard M. Egberg, said she "vehemently denies these allegations" and the grand jury probe "smacks of political motivation."

    Eppard, who left Shuster's staff and opened her own lobbying firm immediately after the 1994 GOP victory that propelled Shuster to the chairmanship, has carved out a lucrative specialty as a transportation lobbyist representing clients before her former boss. She has also continued to serve as a $3,000-a-month consultant for Shuster's campaign and tapped her lobbying clients to contribute to him. Her lobbying firm, Ann Eppard Associates Ltd., reported billings of more than $1 million in 1996, the most recent year for which figures are available.

    The indictment names both Eppard and another Washington lobbyist, Vernon A. Clark, 68, charging them with conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud for a scheme allegedly dating back to 1989, when Eppard was Shuster's chief of staff.

    It alleges that Eppard received illegal gratuities from Clark and two Boston businessmen seeking her help in fighting plans to take their land for a multibillion-dollar underground highway project known as the Big Dig. Some of the gratuities were in the form of loans and disguised by being funneled to a relative of Eppard's, the indictment alleges. Although not named in the indictment, the relative is Eppard's son Ralph, who operates a Chrysler dealership on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

    Sources familiar with the probe have said Stern's office is investigating Shuster and has been trying to get Clark to provide evidence against the congressman and Eppard. Clark, who first met Shuster and Eppard years ago while lobbying for the billboard industry, was indicted in Boston on unrelated conspiracy and tax fraud charges last month. His attorney, Brendan Sullivan, declined comment yesterday.

    In his statement, Stern said the alleged gratuities were not disclosed by Eppard, "often were disguised with phony documents, and represented a breach of public trust."

    In a series of interviews for a Washington Post magazine story published last Sunday, Eppard portrayed herself as a woman without financial means beyond her congressional salary, which ranged from $67,000 to $110,000 in her last decade on the Hill. She said she borrowed heavily from her government retirement fund to pay for her son's education. In 1995, she told a reporter, "I'm a woman with five Visa cards."

    In December 1994, she bought a waterfront town house in Alexandria for $823,000 after signing up a handful of well-paying clients. Early last year, she traded up to a $1.4 million town house in the same Alexandria complex. By last year, her small lobbying shop was billing clients at the rate of $1.4 million a year.

    The 31-page indictment outlined an alleged scheme that began in 1989 when Richard Goldberg, part-owner of a parking lot near Logan Airport, and another businessman hired Clark to help them fight plans to take their land for the Big Dig. News accounts in Boston have identified Nicholas Contos, owner of a restaurant, as a cooperating witness in the inquiry who acknowledged making a loan to Ralph Eppard's auto dealership.

    According to the indictment, Goldberg paid $10,000 in consulting fees to Eppard's relative in 1990, and Clark paid the relative $15,000 in 1989 and 1991. In 1991, Goldberg and Contos reached separate deals on the land disputes. After that, Clark made $130,000 in favorable loans to Eppard's relative. The other businessman made an Eppard-solicited $75,000 loan to the relative in early 1992. That was about the time Ralph Eppard opened his car dealership.

    Eppard used her relative as a "straw" on one $30,000 loan from Clark she needed to finance the purchase of a town house in Alexandria in 1993, the indictment charges. Though the relative received much of the money, Eppard herself benefited because her son's dealership paid her $10,300 in the spring of 1993 and $100,000 between November 1994 and February 1995, and gave her free use of a car.

    The indictment also listed several "official acts" it said Eppard took on behalf of Clark and his clients be from 1989 to 1994, the time she left Shuster's staff. In late 1993, for example, it said Eppard spoke with a Conrail employee on behalf of Clark's unnamed client, Contos, about altering its 1991 land agreement with the restaurant owner. "She advised the Conrail employee that [the client] believed that Conrail wouldn't be responsive to his concerns unless he went through the congressional office and that she was then calling on behalf of that office."

    Shuster and Eppard met in Washington in 1969 when Shuster, a computer business executive, hired Eppard as his executive assistant. Eppard later followed Shuster into congressional politics in the early 1970s and emerged as a political force in Washington and Pennsylvania as his chief of staff, chief fund-raiser and political alter ego. Although Shuster became so entrenched that he rarely attracted an opponent, he and Eppard raised and spent millions on activities that were tangentially related to campaigning, according to reviews of Federal Elections Commission records.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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