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Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio) pleaded guilty Friday to criminal fraud charges as part of the government’s ongoing public corruption probe stemming from the business deals of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In the two-count plea, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Ney, 52, admitted to making false statements and to being part of a conspiracy to violate congressional gift bans by accepting handouts and free trips from Abramoff and his clients in exchange for pushing their legislative agenda beginning in 2000 until April 2004. Ney is the first member of Congress to face charges in a lobbying scandal that has already ensnared six other lobbyists and government officials. Abramoff and his associates Michael Scanlon, former Ney Chief of Staff Neil Volz, Adam Kidan, and Tony Rudy all pleaded guilty to bribery charges. David Safavian, former chief procurement officer for the Office of Management and Budget, was convicted in June of making false statements and obstructing justice in connection with his work with Abramoff. (Judge Paul Friedman denied Safavian’s motion for a new trial this week.) Lawyers familiar with the investigation say the government is likely to bring charges against other government officials, former Hill staffers, and lobbyists in the coming months. Ney’s lawyers, Mark Tuohey and William Lawler of Vinson & Elkins, did not return calls. A spokesperson at Ney’s office declined to comment on the future of Ney’s congressional office. But even though the Ohio congressman soundly won his primary election in May, the state Republican Party moved quickly to remove him from the November ballot and named Joy Padgett, a former state representative, on Thursday as his replacement. The New York Times reported Friday that Ney had entered into treatment for alcoholism. “Congressman Ney obviously has some personal issues that he needs to deal with, and we wish him the best of luck, but he’s not on the ballot this November. Our focus is keeping the 18th District in Republican hands,” says John McClelland, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party. Ney will appear in court Oct. 13 before Judge Ellen Huvelle. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $500,000 fine, although the Justice Department is recommending he receive closer to 27 months in prison. The case is being prosecuted by Mary Butler, M. Kendall Day, and James Crowell IV of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. Ney’s relationship with Abramoff and his associates began shortly before he took over as chairman of the House Committee on Administration in 2001, a position he held until the House leadership forced him to step down in January. One of Ney’s first illegal acts was inserting statements into the Congressional Record on Scanlon’s behalf twice in 2000, according to the plea. According to the Congressional Record, those statements related to Abramoff’s Florida business venture, SunCruz Casino. Ney soon accepted numerous lobbyist-sponsored trips, including an August 2002 golfing junket to Scotland, which included Abramoff, Safavian, Volz, and former Christian Coalition organizer Ralph Reed. Ney also took a gambling trip to New Orleans, in May 2003, and vacationed at Lake George, N.Y., in August 2003. Both trips were paid for by lobbyists. In the plea, Ney admitted he had frequently accepted free meals and drinks at Abramoff’s restaurant, Signatures, and took free tickets to concerts and sporting events using Abramoff’s box suites at the Verizon Center, FedEx Field, and Camden Yards. In exchange for these gifts, Ney agreed to add language favoring Abramoff’s clients into pending bills, according to Ney’s plea documents. One of the key pieces of legislation was the Help America Vote Act, in which Ney inserted amendments to lift an existing casino ban for two Abramoff clients and to allow another Abramoff client, a foreign-beverage distiller, to label its product “Made in Russia” even though it was made in a former Soviet republic, according to the plea agreement. In addition to the Abramoff-related matters, Ney admitted to taking bribes from a foreign businessman who had hired U.S. lobbyists to help get a license to sell U.S.-made airplanes and parts. The businessman, who was not named in charging documents, gave Ney and his staff thousands of dollars in gambling chips on a 2003 trip to a London casino, from which Ney walked away from with more than $50,000. According to lobbying and travel records, the businessman was Nigel Winfield, whose company, FN Aviation, hired lobbyist David DiStefano, a former chief of staff to Ney, in 2003.
Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected]. Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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