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When former Team Abramoff member Neil Volz pleaded guilty to conspiracy last week, it was undoubtedly the nadir of his Washington career. But it was also the final play in a gambit gone bust. A year and a half ago, the Indiana-based law firm Barnes & Thornburg took a chance on Volz for its tiny federal lobby practice, even as the Jack Abramoff scandal swirled around him. It was a move that might have paid off had the Abramoff prosecution fizzled. But as everyone knows, it’s done anything but. Volz left Barnes in January, under the same cloud of scandal as when he arrived. Edward Ayoob and Kevin Ring, the two other members of Abramoff’s former inner circle at Greenberg Traurig who were hired with Volz, are still with the firm. The three always seemed an odd fit at Barnes, which before their arrival was essentially a two-man D.C. lobby outpost for a medium-size Indianapolis law firm. The long-standing friendship between Volz and Jeffrey Taylor, who heads Barnes & Thornburg‘s lobby practice, was the primary driver of Volz’s move to Barnes, say sources who worked in the firm’s D.C. office at the time. Taylor, who served as former Rep. David McIntosh’s (R-Ind.) chief of staff in the late 1990s, ran in the same circles as Volz, who was Rep. Bob Ney’s (R-Ohio) chief of staff from 1998 until 2002. Taylor was happy to help out a friend, and the firm’s management was eager to bring on high-powered talent that could grow revenues. And with Volz, Ring, and Ayoob’s client list — which included the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a $400,000-a-year cash cow — such growth figured to be a no-brainer. When the trio of former Abramoff associates began work at Barnes at the start of 2005, the red flags were already up about their potential liability and their involvement in investigations being conducted by the Justice Department and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. In October 2004, Ney’s name took a beating at an Indian Affairs Committee hearing in which senators accused him of championing an effort to reopen a shuttered casino for the Tigua tribe of El Paso, an Abramoff client, after taking a golfing trip to Scotland paid for by Abramoff. In November 2004, a source familiar with Abramoff’s tribal work told Influence that Volz “was the main contact person between Abramoff and Ney.” In his plea agreement last week, Volz admitted to asking Ney (identified in the agreement as Representative #1) to insert language into a bill that would allow the Tigua to reopen their casino a week after Abramoff had hosted Ney on the golfing trip in Scotland. Volz also admitted to lobbying Ney during the yearlong period in which he was not allowed to do so. Ring also came with baggage of his own. In October 2004, Ring left Greenberg Traurig after Influence reported that he had improperly accepted $135,000 from Capitol Campaign Strategies, the public relations firm owned by Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon, who has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Although the disclosure led to Ring’s exit from Greenberg, the payments were never alleged to have been illegal. In addition, neither Ring nor Ayoob appears to be a target of the probe. (Among former Team Abramoff lobbyists, only Volz and Tony Rudy, a former staffer to Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, were mentioned or referred to in court documents.) Ring declined to comment for this article. At the time of the lobbyists’ hiring at Barnes & Thornburg, questions surrounded the wisdom of bringing scandal-enveloped lobbyists on board. The firm was steadfast — and remains steadfast — that it had done its due diligence, putting the new hires through what both Taylor and Washington managing partner Richard Streeter describe as a thorough vetting process that included review by the firm’s Indianapolis management board. In February 2005, Taylor told Influence that he was sure the taint of the Abramoff scandal would not fall on Volz or the other new hires. “I’m convinced they’re in the clear. I feel that Neil’s fine in this regard,” he said at the time. He added: “We chose to bring Neil Volz on board because I’m building a practice and I want extremely able lobbyists on this team. Neil has tremendous experience on Capitol Hill, and personally, I have known him for 10 years.” When asked in 2005 if the investigation could sully Barnes & Thornburg’s reputation, Taylor was resolute: “I would like people to think that Barnes & Thornburg is a good place to do business. . . . We have a very strong ethical standard here.” Reached for comment last week, Taylor referred all questions to Streeter, who would not comment on any of the Team Abramoff lobbyists. “I’m not going to get into the reasons why we hire someone,” he said. Stanley Brand, a former general counsel of the House of Representatives who, as an ethics lawyer at Brand & Frulla, has defended several officials accused of ethical improprieties, says that hiring scandal-saddled politicos can be a tightrope walk. “It’s easy after the fact to say that [Barnes & Thornburg] should have known,” he says. “A guy comes in waving a lot of business, but he brings with him all these legal issues. Most firms wouldn’t make that trade-off.” Even with the firm now tied, however tangentially, the Abramoff scandal, Barnes has met its primary objective in hiring the trio: Its revenues are way up. In 2004, the lobby practice had 11 clients, most of which had roots in Indiana. The firm’s lobby revenues in 2004 totaled $770,000, with the deepest-pocketed clients paying a modest $10,000-a-month retainer, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports. By the end of 2005, the client count had swelled to 39 and revenues totaled $3 million, with clients that the Team Abramoff lobbyists imported from their Greenberg Traurig days kicking in $640,000.
Andy Metzger can be contacted at [email protected].

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