Last week's indictment of former Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff by a Fort Lauderdale grand jury could be making at least one member of Congress skittish: Ohio GOP Rep. Bob Ney, who twice put statements in the Congressional Record that favored Abramoff's side of a bitterly disputed deal involving gambling boats that is at the heart of the charges.
Abramoff and a partner were indicted for conspiracy and wire fraud in connection with their 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos. In the middle of contentious negotiations over the sale, Ney condemned the seller, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, on the floor of the House, implying he was skirting the law. Several months later, Ney praised Abramoff's partner in the purchase as someone who could transform SunCruz "from a questionable enterprise to an upstanding establishment." Several months after that, in March 2001, Abramoff, his partner and three other SunCruz associates each contributed $1,000 to Ney at a fundraiser they had for the congressman at the MCI Center in Washington. Watchdog groups have called for a House ethics committee investigation of whether there was any connection between Ney's actions and the fundraiser. Ney says he was "duped" by Abramoff and his associate, public relations operative Michael Scanlon, a former staffer to Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Ney isn't the only House member who might find some uncomfortable moments back home during this month's congressional recess. Some others whose alleged behavior has given constituents something to talk about:
Rep. Bill Jefferson, whose New Orleans and Washington homes and offices, as well as his car, were raided by the FBI at the beginning of the month. Jefferson is the target of a long-running FBI sting operation investigating whether the Louisiana Democrat pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars of an investor's money in a business deal involving a high-tech company. Jefferson allegedly promised to use his congressional influence to get government contracts for the firm. Jefferson's lawyer told the Washington Post he is confident his client "did not pocket any money."
Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, whose relationship with a defense contractor is the focus of an inquiry by a San Diego grand jury. In Washington, Cunningham lived on a yacht, rent-free, owned by the contractor, Mitchell Wade. He sold his San Diego-area home at a price that was inflated by about $700,000 to the same contractor, using the proceeds to buy a bigger place. The Republican Vietnam War fighter pilot has acknowledged using his slot on the Appropriations Committee to push contracts for Wade's companies and said last month he would not run for a ninth term.
Rep. Don Sherwood, who is fighting a civil suit filed by a woman less than half his age with whom he says he had a five-year affair. No criminal charges were filed against Sherwood after his mistress, who is now 29, called 911 and told police Sherwood had tried to choke her during a backrub. But she has sued the four-term Republican from Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania for $5.5 million, saying he repeatedly struck her, violently yanked her hair and tried to strangle her, promising after each incident never to do it again and begging her not to leave him. Sherwood, 64, has denied abusing the woman.
Then there's DeLay, Two associates who did work for DeLay's political action committee have been indicted for money laundering and accepting illegal contributions in a Texas investigation that is continuing. And while there isn't yet a House ethics committee investigation of DeLay's acceptance of a trip to Scotland allegedly financed by Abramoff and as well as other interactions between the two, legal sources say that Abramoff's alter ego Scanlon is cooperating to at least some degree with prosecutors in a separate, Washington-based federal probe of the lobbyist's dealings with Indian tribes and with elected officials. That could foreshadow trouble for the congressman who once called Abramoff one of his "closest and dearest friends." DeLay has denied wrongdoing.