STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A scandal here in Washington--maybe we should say one of the scandals here in Washington--is coming closer to members of Congress. Michael Scanlon, a former aide to Congressman Tom DeLay, has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. It turns out he's been cooperating with federal prosecutors since last June. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY reporting:
Michael Scanlon came to federal District Court yesterday afternoon wearing a navy blue power suit and an easy smile. The hearing took less than half an hour. When it came time for him to plead, he leaned over to the microphone and answered crisply, `Guilty, your honor.' Scanlon pleaded guilty to a single double-barreled count of conspiracy, first, conspiring with an unnamed Lobbyist A to defraud some of their clients, Indian tribes, of millions of dollars. Lobbyist A is clearly Jack Abramoff who a few years ago was a big-spending Republican lobbyist. And second, conspiring to bribe public officials. One official was referred to specifically an unnamed Representative 1 whose actions matched those of Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio. When the judge said Scanlon would be liable for restitution to the tribes of nearly $20 million, he didn't flinch. After the pleading, Scanlon and defense attorney Plato Cacheris strolled out to talk to reporters in the rain.
Unidentified Man: Any thoughts, any comments, Mr. Scanlon, please?
Mr. PLATO CACHERIS (Defense Attorney): It's up to you.
Mr. MICHAEL SCANLON: Not at this moment, guys.
Mr. CACHERIS: Well, he's obviously regretful for the circumstances that bring him here, but he's trying to do what he thinks is right.
OVERBY: Abramoff and Scanlon have been under scrutiny for nearly two years. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held hearings and released reams of their e-mails. Their own words showed them ridiculing their tribal clients while scheming to extract more money from them. In one case, they lobbied against a tribe, won and then got themselves hired by the tribe to undo the damage. Last August, Abramoff was indicted on federal fraud charges in a Florida business deal. In September, FBI agents arrested David Safavian, formerly the Bush administration's top contracts official. He's charged with lying to investigators in the case, but now Scanlon's plea agreement brings the case back where it began: Capitol Hill.
Many other lawmakers have done business with Abramoff and Scanlon, but it's Congressman Ney who is described in the plea agreement. Abramoff and Scanlon took him golfing in Scotland, funneled money into his political organization and did favors for some of his staff members. In return, the plea agreement says that Ney agreed to endorse a contract for one of Abramoff's clients and also agreed to push legislation for two Indian tribes. It says he praised Abramoff to one of the tribes, and he tried to influence other officials at other government agencies. Ney's office issued a statement that any allegation he did anything illegal or improper is false. It said some of the events described in Scanlon's plea agreement never happened. And it says Ney is among those defrauded by Scanlon.
Phone calls are picking up at the offices of Washington ethics attorneys. Stanley Brand, who was once counsel to the House of the Representatives.
Mr. STANLEY BRAND: I think anyone who has received anything of value from Scanlon at this point is checking their records to see when and where and how much. The critical element is not whether they received gifts but whether the receipted gifts can be tied to some specific official action that they may have taken on behalf of Scanlon or one of his clients.
OVERBY: And while it's true that bribery is a tough charge to prove, nobody on Capitol Hill can be sure where the well-connected Michael Scanlon might lead the prosecutors. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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