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Federal prosecutors filed criminal papers and a guilty plea today signed by Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio. This makes Ney the first member of Congress to be convicted in the federal corruption investigation around former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
NPR's Peter Overby has that story.
PETER OVERBY: The papers spell out an ongoing relationship of gifts from Abramoff and his lobbyists and offers to help from Ney, who was a powerful committee chairman at the time. This morning, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher laid out the case to reporters.
Ms. ALICE FISHER (Assistant Attorney General): Congressman Ney and his coconspirators engaged in a long-term pattern to defraud the public of the unbiased and honest services of an elected official.
OVERBY: Fisher's prosecutors had been closing in on Ney for nearly a year. They labeled him as representative number one in plea bargains by other defendants. One of these pleaders was Abramoff, another was Ney's own former top aide. Then, prosecutors used that aide's testimony in court against another government friend of Jack Abramoff. In that trial, there were photos of Ney grinning on a golf course in Scotland on a trip Abramoff had paid for. Again, Assistant Attorney General Fisher.
Ms. FISHER: Congressman Ney in the documents admits that he accepted a stream of benefits from Jack Abramoff and other lobbyists, including international and domestic trips, such as a trip to Scotland with others valued at $160,000, a trip to New Orleans valued at $7,000, a trip to Lake George valued at $3,500.
OVERBY: Plus thousands of dollars in meals, drinks and concert and sports tickets. In the most bizarre episode, one unrelated to Abramoff, a foreign businessman wanted a U.S. entry visa and government permission to export airplane parts. He twice took Ney to an exclusive casino in London. Ney admits he went home with roughly $50,000.
Ney's court date is set for October 13. The prosecution wants a sentence of 27 months. Unlike other plea bargains in the Abramoff probe, they are not basing the recommendation on Ney's future cooperation. That suggests this particular part of the investigation may be near its end.
Ney hasn't decided whether to resign immediately. He did give up his reelection bid last month, and he has begun treatment for alcohol dependency. He issued a statement today, quote, “I've made serious mistakes and I am sorry for them.” The statement went on, quote, “I am not making excuses and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Ney's next action, pleading guilty in court, could affect the upcoming Congressional elections.
Mr. BOB BENENSON (Congressional Quarterly): The timing would not have been for the Republicans if it had occurred any time in the year.
OVERBY: That's Bob Benenson, political editor for the Washington publisher Congressional Quarterly. The corruption issue had been hot earlier this year, but as Benenson notes, it had faded away until Alice Fisher came to the microphone this morning.
Mr. BENENSON: It occurs a little bit more than seven weeks out from election day and gives the Democrats, if nothing else, a really big talking point.
OVERBY: A talking point they'll be mentioning in campaigns against other GOP lawmakers who once counted Jack Abramoff as a friend.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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