Who's the Next Target in the Abramoff Probe?

  • Share
  • Read Later
After months of defiant protestations of innocence about his role in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, has pleaded guilty to making false statements, conspiracy to commit fraud and violating post-employment restrictions for former congressional aides. But the probe into the lobbying scandal is far from wrapped up.

A source close to the investigation told TIME that scores of US prosecutors and FBI agents continue to examine the activities of other sitting members of Congress and prominent individuals who could face prosecution, though not necessarily before the November 7 election. The source confirmed previous public reports that particular scrutiny is being paid to Sen. Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican who faces a tough campaign for reelection.

"A lot of the conduct to which Ney has pleaded guilty is similar to the alleged conduct of Senator Conrad Burns and his staff," points out Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a non-profit watchdog group. "Abramoff has said that Burns and his staff used Signatures [Abramoff's restaurant] like their cafeteria. And Burns took a number of legislative actions on Abramoff's behalf, even as members of his staff went on trip to the 2001 Super Bowl on private jet and visited Sun Cruise gambling ships, which were partly owned by Abramoff. "Abramoff himself said in an interview earlier this year, "Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns's committee] we got. Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used Signatures as their cafeteria. I mean, it's a little difficult for him to run from that record."

But Erik Iverson, a senior advisor to Sen. Burns campaign in Montana told TIME, "There is no federal investigation. Certainly no one has ever told us there is, or contacted us. And there is absolutely no similarity between what's happening to Mr. Ney and Mr. Burns. That is all just politics." As a matter of policy, the Justice Dept. does not comment on possible targets of its investigations.

Ney, 52, is the first member of Congress to admit wrongdoing in the federal probe. Prosecutors are likely to insist that he spend as much as 27 months in prison, although a judge could impose up to 10 years, though that stiff a sentence is considered unlikely. His plea agreement lacks language that would require him to testify or to cooperate in other federal prosecutions — in contrast to earlier plea agreements of Ney's longtime chief of staff, Neil Volz, as well as Abramoff himself. The absence of such language suggests that Ney was able to provide little information beyond the scope of his own activity.

By the same token, some observers had predicted prosecutors would insist that Ney plead guilty to bribery, which carries a possible 15-year sentence, in part because Abramoff and another defendant admitted bribing a public official who has been identified as Ney. Right up until his guilty plea, Ney had always denied wrongdoing, even after Volz pleaded guilty in May. Volz confessed to conspiring to corrupt the congressman and others. After leaving the congressional payroll Volz went into business with Abramoff.

  1. Previous
  2. 1
  3. 2