A top aide to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has for the past year been cooperating with federal investigators who are examining the activities of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a spokesman for the governor said yesterday.
A federal grand jury issued a subpoena last summer to Edward Miller, Ehrlich's deputy chief of staff, because of Miller's role in establishing a Silver Spring company called Grassroots Interactive.
The company, now defunct, was in the news yesterday because of reports that it collected hefty fees from one of Abramoff's lobbying clients, Tyco International Ltd. -- money that was allegedly diverted to other entities controlled by Abramoff and misspent.
Miller stepped down as the company's resident agent in September 2003 when he took a job with the Ehrlich administration.
Responding to media inquiries about Miller's role in the case, the governor's office for the first time acknowledged that the deputy was cooperating with federal investigators.
"The governor is aware that Ed has been extremely helpful to the investigation," said Henry Fawell, Ehrlich's spokesman. "Ed is a valued member of our team who has been assisting the investigation for more than a year."
Fawell would not say whether Ehrlich (R) had personal knowledge of Miller's activities with Grassroots Interactive.
Abramoff and his wife, who live in Maryland, donated $16,000 to Ehrlich's 2002 campaign for governor and $7,750 to the Maryland Republican Party, according to state records. Abramoff also was a guest at a December 2003 Hanukah party thrown by the governor at the executive mansion.
Neither Miller nor his attorney, Aron Raskas, returned calls seeking comment yesterday. In an interview last year with Roll Call newspaper, Raskas emphasized that Miller had done nothing improper or unethical.
It is not clear what relationship, if any, Miller had with Grassroots Interactive when the company received a $2 million payment, at Abramoff's direction, from Tyco.
Timothy E. Flanigan, general counsel for Tyco, said in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that Abramoff's lobbying firm promised to repay $1.5 million of that fee because the firm had determined during an internal investigation that the money was "diverted to entities controlled by Mr. Abramoff" and misspent.
Abramoff, under indictment on wire fraud and conspiracy charges, remains the focus of a lengthy investigation by a task force led by prosecutors at the Justice Department that also includes investigators at the Internal Revenue Service, the Interior Department and General Services Administration.
The probe initially focused on whether Abramoff bilked Native American tribes that paid him tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and other fees, but it has since widened to include other matters.