ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In a federal courtroom in Washington today, consultant Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud several Indian tribes and corrupt a member of Congress. Scanlon, a former aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has been cooperating in the investigation of a one-time business partner, and he could face up to five years in prison.
NORRIS: Scanlon also agreed to pay $19 million in restitution. He and his former partner are accused of delivering very little service in exchange for the tens of millions of dollars they took from tribes with gambling interests. NPR's Peter Overby was at the court today and joins us.
Peter, this is one of those cases of a charge and a plea bargain that leaves people wondering, `What's the rest of the story?' So who is Michael Scanlon, and who was he conspiring with?
PETER OVERBY reporting:
Well, Michael Scanlon is a former Hill staffer. He worked for Tom DeLay for a while, and then he went out and became a consultant. The other person in the conspiracy is not named in the plea agreement; he's identified as `Lobbyist A.' And it's clearly Jack Abramoff, who was Scanlon's business partner. And Abramoff just a few years ago was one of the best-connected lobbyists in Republican Washington.
NORRIS: What exactly did Scanlon plead guilty to today?
OVERBY: He pleaded guilty to a two-part charge of conspiracy. One-half the conspiracy was defrauding the Indian tribes. Abramoff would get hired as their lobbyist, and then he would tell them to hire Scanlon as their consultant. Scanlon would pad his bill by huge amounts of money and then kick back half of it to Abramoff.
The other half of the conspiracy was conspiracy to commit bribery. This is pretty strong language in political ethics cases. And the target of that that they hint at, again not named, Representative Number One in the plea agreement, seems to be Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio.
NORRIS: And when you talk about bribery, you're usually talking about some sort of kickback or favor.
OVERBY: Right, a quid pro quo. According to the plea agreement, Scanlon says that they conspired to give Ney a golf trip to Scotland, skybox tickets at sporting events, campaign contributions, fancy meals, and he agreed to perform official acts for their clients.
NORRIS: Official acts--can you give me an example of that?
OVERBY: Yeah. Congressman Ney put a provision in legislation that would have benefited one of the Indian tribe clients. And this happened right about the time that Abramoff and Scanlon took him golfing in Scotland.
NORRIS: And so the allegation is that that was more than coincidence.
NORRIS: So what happened with Scanlon today in court, and what's likely to happen to him now?
OVERBY: Scanlon pleaded guilty. He hasn't been sentenced. The sentencing waits until after he's finished talking. It also came out that he started talking last June, so this is--you know, he's been telling his story for quite a while. What happened today boiled down to one thing basically. About 20 minutes into the half-hour session, the judge said, `How do you plead to this charge of'--and then she read it off, and he leaned forward and he said, `Guilty, Your Honor.' He said it crisply; it's not like he was reluctant to do it, kind of snapped it out there.
NORRIS: Peter, there's been a lot of interest in this case, particularly here in Washington. What was the scene in the court like?
OVERBY: The courtroom was filled with reporters, and everybody was trying to figure out how far the plea agreement went. And the answer to that is that when the plea agreement talks about bribery, it doesn't say `conspiracy to commit bribery relative to Congressman Number One'; it says `relative to public officials.' So there are a lot of public officials now who might be wondering who else might get named as this thing unfolds.
NORRIS: Thank you, Peter.
OVERBY: Thank you.
NORRIS: NPR's Peter Overby.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.