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In the spring of 2005, lobbyist Neil Volz was with his former boss, then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), and a few Hill staffers at a restaurant downtown. As the group clumped around the bar, Ney pulled Volz aside. The congressman said he wanted to talk about their 2002 trip to Scotland � a junket full of golf, Scotch, and cigars that has come to symbolize the corruption scandal surrounding convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and, more broadly, all that’s wrong with Washington’s influence game. Around that time, Volz started to cooperate with investigators in the Abramoff probe. When he told Ney he couldn’t discuss the trip, Ney knew something was up. “The congressman exploded in a profanity-laced tirade threatening me, my job and my future,” Volz wrote in a letter to Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in preparation for his Sept. 12 sentencing on federal charges. “As his staff quickly escorted him out of the restaurant, he continued to rant.” He added, “Bob pointed at me in front of his whole entourage and declared me persona non grata, i.e., cut off.” Volz, 37, pleaded guilty in May 2006 to one conspiracy charge of “violating his and others’ duties to provide honest services” and flouting the one-year ban on lobbying his former boss and co-workers. He faces up to two years in prison, but prosecutors and his attorneys are asking for either home detention or probation and community service. In his letter to the judge, which was bundled with 60 others from his family, friends, and former colleagues, Volz described Ney’s evolution from public servant, mentor, and former roommate � the two lived together for four years � to an overambitious, ethically flexible pol who demanded blind loyalty from his staff. “Gone was our cheerful and optimistic leader. In his place was a man whose ambitions knew no bounds and whose private rage would erupt at a moment’s notice,” wrote Volz, who came to Washington as Ney’s press secretary in 1995 and resigned as his chief of staff in 2002 to join Abramoff’s lobbying team at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. Minutes after the restaurant incident, Ney called Volz’s cell phone, and the tirade resumed. “I hung up on him and remembered thinking that would be the last time I ever talk to him again,” Volz wrote. That’s also when he decided he would tell the government everything he knew � about the luxury vacations he helped arrange for Ney and his staff while a member of Abramoff’s crew; about the free meals, tickets to sporting events, and favors Ney and his staff received in exchange for jamming items into the Congressional Record on behalf of Abramoff’s clients; and about how Volz became a go-between for Abramoff and Ney, violating the one-year ban on lobbying former Hill colleagues. Ney, who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and making false statements, is serving a 30-month prison sentence. For Volz’s candor, the government has asked Huvelle for the same treatment she gave another ex-Ney aide in August. Huvelle showed mercy to Will Heaton, who pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in gambling chips on one of Abramoff’s trips and conspiring to commit fraud. In a similar request for leniency, prosecutors said Heaton had earned a lesser sentence by wearing a wire during a meeting with Ney in his office, recording several phone conversations with the congressman, and turning over incriminating travel disclosures to investigators. Huvelle agreed, giving him two years’ probation. But prosecutors say Volz’s cooperation went further. Volz has met with investigators dozens of times since 2005, and he continues to debrief prosecutors and the FBI, according to court documents. Volz, prosecutors also note, was the only cooperating defendant to testify in the criminal trial of David Safavian, the former chief of staff of the U.S. General Services Administration, who was convicted in June 2006 of four counts of obstruction of justice and making false statements about the Scotland trip. “In sum, Mr. Volz’s guilty plea, cooperation and testimony at the Safavian trial caused Congressman Ney’s house of cards to tumble,” wrote Volz’s lawyer, Timothy Broas of Winston & Strawn, in Volz’s sentencing memorandum. Heaton, who succeeded Volz as Ney’s chief of staff, agreed to cooperate soon after Safavian’s conviction. “The government would have been able to successfully prosecute Ney without Heaton’s assistance, but not without Volz’s,” wrote Justice Department lawyers Mary Butler and Nathaniel Edmonds in an Aug. 29th motion to reduce Volz’s sentence.
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected].

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